Scottish roots run deep in Bruce County, and the tradition of Pipe Bands in Bruce’s communities runs just as deep. In fact, Bruce County’s most famous ‘ghost’ is a piper.
It was in 1856 that Kincardine’s fabled Phantom Piper story begins. According to legend, Donald Sinclair and his family were aboard a ship from Goderich that got lost in a storm as it neared Kincardine. It is said Sinclair piped a lament from the deck of the ship, and it was answered by another piper on land. The ship’s captain was able to find his way to shore safely listening to the pipes, using them like a foghorn to navigate. The identity of the piper on land was never discovered giving rise to the legend of the Phantom Piper.
People in communities throughout Bruce County found fellowship through their passion for the pipes. The Lucknow Pipe Band was started in 1908 and Wiarton was home to McLaren’s Pipe Band in the late 1880s. Not only did the bands lend themselves to festive occasions they were also sometimes called upon to motivate and inspire. John McIver, the postmaster for the McIver settlement near Purple Valley from 1878-1915, was struck by tragedy when fire destroyed his barns in 1887. He hired McLaren’s Pipe Band and a Piper named Currie, hailing from Cape Chin, to play at the barn-raising party that followed the completion of the new buildings in 1888. Local lore mentions McIver often hired the band when he hosted stoning and logging bees.
In 1909 the Kincardine Pipe Band was established. The band was formed by Pipe Major William R. Young who held the first practices in his barber shop in Kincardine. The band was in high demand in those days, giving performances at fairs, garden parties, and accompanying the Kincardine Fire Brigade to international Firefighters events. In 1935, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Rt. Honourable R. B. Bennett was visiting Kincardine and the band, undeterred by heavy rain, led the parade from the Post Office to the Curling Rink. In 1957, the Kincardine Pipe Band changed its name to the now well-known Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band and Mac Webster, a band member at the time, gave them the design for their own cap badge. The Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band has won international recognition, performing at venues in Scotland and the United States, but remains true to its roots parading down Kincardine’s Queen St. on Saturday nights during the summer months.
The bagpipes and pipe bands are ingrained in the culture of Bruce County. In 1996, the Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band rekindled the legend of the Phantom Piper, with a member piping from the top of the Kincardine Lighthouse on weekend evenings, creating a new tradition unto itself. The sound of pipes echoes the history of the community and links it to the present and future.