Over more than 40 years of piping I've amassed quite a number of photos, stories, and sound files other pipers might find interesting. I'll post some of them on this page, adding more from time to time. New material will be added at the top. If you have any photos relating to what I've posted here, or that you think others might find interesting, please email them to me.
April 7, 2007
The Great John Wilson's MacDougall Pipes
Finally See the Light of Day
A small number of Ontario pipers knew John Wilson's widow Margaret still had her late husband's Duncan MacDougall bagpipe, but it was always felt she would never part with them. That has all changed now.
During the course of buidling my sheet music download website (pipetunes.ca) I decided it was paramount that I acquire permission to have John Wilson's compositions available for download, with Mrs. Wilson receiving the royalties of course. Though I knew John, I had not met Mrs. Wilson and wasn't sure how to approach her with the idea. My good friend David Waterhouse – a pupil of John's in the 1960s – kindly offered to broker a meeting and we visited Margaret near the end of March.
Mrs. Wilson is a friendly and affable woman, with a wit and quickness one might not expect in someone whose husband would be almost 101 years old. She was kind and talkative and showed us photos and mementos of John. Near the end of our meeting, I took a deep breath and asked if we might possibly see John's pipes. I had no other interest but to just be able to say I saw them. There was a pause of a few moments and then, to my surprise, she agreed, and went to the basement to retrieve them.
I confess it was a magical moment as I opened the old leather box of one of the last century's great piping figures. As you might expect after 28 years, the pipes were not a treat to the eye. Some of the silver was black with tarnish. There was a massive split in the bass drone top and another smaller crack in the bass middle piece. Mrs. Wilson was a bit taken aback when she saw this and when she realized the pipes were deteriorating badly. (I have since seen this with other pre-1900 pipes, many of which are made from ebony and cocus. It seems that when they fall into disuse and "stored" that the wood dries out completely and the pipes literally start to fall apart.)
After more study and talk between her and David and myself, I (perhaps boldly) offered that if she were ready to do so, I would take on the task of having the pipes repaired and refurbished, and I would put them into playing condition and sell them for her, with no profit for myself.
I was thrilled when she called several days later and said yes. She also gave me permission to publish John's tunes on pipetunes.ca which will be live in about a month.
The pipes were given to John by his uncle John Wilson, known as "The Baldooser," and he played them during his prime years in Scotland when he was one of the leading players and composers during a great Golden Age of piping in the 1920s and 1930s.
Photos of the pipes as I found them in John Wilson's leather case appear below.
John Wilson lived from 1906 to 1979. He was one of the leading pipers in the world during his prime years, and in 1936 was easily the best competitive piper alive. He moved to Canada in 1948 and had an immense influence on piping in southern Ontario until the time of his death.
For a complete biography of John Wilson, click below:
John Wilson biography
Two previously unpublished photos of John Wilson. At left, at the Argyllshire Gathering, Oban, in 1934, taken at the same time as the photo that appears on the cover of his autobiography "A Professional Piper in Peace and War." At right, John Wilson in the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Hamilton in 1950. Both photos courtesy of Mrs. Margaret Wilson.
John Wilson's MacDougall Bagpipe
Congratulations to Troy Guindon of St. Andrew's West, Ontario, now the owner of this set of pipes.
All proceeds except for shipping, go to Mrs. Margaret Wilson.
John Burgess, Pipe Major Willie Ross, Montreal, 1952
As far as I know, this photo has never been published before. On the left is the late John D. Burgess, and beside him is his teacher, the great Pipe Major Willie Ross, arguably the most influential piper of the 20th century.
Burgess had won both Gold Medals in the same year in 1950 at the age of 16: a remarkable feat that has never been equalled. In 1952, Ross and Burgess embarked on a North American tour to showcase the young prodigy. This photo was taken when they were guests of the Black Watch in Montreal.
MacDougall Pipes, 1903 presentation set
This set of 1903 presentation silver and ivory MacDougall pipes was purchased by my then wife (and still good friend), Ellen Mole, around 1974. I played them for two years after that and they went very, very well for me. In typical MacDougall fashion, the bass drone was very hard to reed, at least back in the days of cane reeds.
The drones had classic brass-lined tuning chambers and the most intricate silver engraving I've ever seen on a set of pipes. All pieces were intact, including the practice chanter and case (not pictured here).
The pipes were sold in 2005 and are being played and well cared for.
I'd love to hear from anyone who knows anything about the gentleman to whom the pipes were presented.
The presentation shield reads: "Robt Weir, Halkirk, Caithness, Scotland, 2nd May 1903."
The pipes were made by Gavin MacDougall, the last of the MacDougall pipemakers.