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Pipe band back at practice

Calling all pipers and drummers as band returns from pandemic hiatus
Rotary Pipe Band members Robbie McMullin, Tony Fayant, Ruby McBeth, and John and Alexander Haggerty.

The Rotary Pipe Band has a rich, 50 years of history in Fort St. John.

In fact, their first performance was for the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they came to town in 1971.

And now, after a two year pandemic break, the band is back practicing and getting ready for its next and first post-Covid performance, the local Remembrance Day services in November.

“We didn't do anything during Covid. I just wanted to keep everyone safe and healthy,” said pipe major Robbie McMullin after a recent practice at Dr. Kearney school.

“Now coming back, I just want to get people playing together, and get people out again. That's our goal for this year.”

The band is the only one of its kind in Northeast B.C.

Today it includes founding members like lead drummer Ruby McBeth, as well as newer members from as far away as Tumbler Ridge and Grande Prairie.

Piper Tony Fayant recently joined after moving to the region a year and a half ago.

“It’s great to be out with people again,” said Fayant, who used to play with Cowichan Pipes and Drums, and works in the hotel and restaurants industry.

“When we all shut down for Covid we all did our own things,” he said. “When everybody was banging pots and I got laid off from work, I went home and went, this is kind of interesting, but how do I make noise?

“I make noise by playing my pipes, so every night for 100 nights in a row I played the pipes at the cenotaph.”

Piper John Haggerty got involved in 2014 when he moved to town from the Edmonton and Grande Prairie areas. Though he’s now living in Grande Prairie, he still makes the drive with his son to play with the band.

“I’ve been playing for 30 years,” he said. “I wouldn’t have moved here if there wasn’t a bagpipe band.”

“It was really nice. You move to a new place and you know there’s going to be a group of people who you're going to like, who you're going to have something to do with," Haggerty said.

“That's why I joined this band here and why I'm still a part of it.”

McBeth, who helped form and teach the founding band with Gordon Adlard, still remembers its first performance for the Royal visit in May 1971.

“Our first performance was for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and apparently he commented that there was one piper who could play and this would have been Gordon,” she said with a laugh.

She says the band has contributed greatly to local culture, whether performing at the annual Robbie Burns supper, the Cadets annual review, or other community events.

“That gave us a real push. It made it a cultural thing,” she said. “It gave us a place to be so I’m very thankful that we had that.”

The band is looking for new members, experienced or brand new to playing a bagpipe tune. Friendly, free instruction is provided.

“These things go up and down and right now we got a solid start, but we do need more pipers and drummers," said McBeth.

“Even some of the best bands like the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band was down to very few pipers at one point and before that they had been a competition-winning band, and they are once again."

McMullin has been playing with the band for 13 years after getting involved through cadets. He says the band is willing to teach anyone with an interest to learn.

“We're community band. We want everyone here,” he said. “We just want to get together and play music.”

To get in touch with the band, email, or call McMullin at 250-793-4821.

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