The Haliburton Highlanders Pipes and Drums headed the Robbie Burns festivities on Saturday, Jan. 21 at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129. The band hopes to be able to have a larger celebration to invite the public to the event next year. /VIVIAN COLLINGS Staff

Tradition continues for Haliburton Highlanders

By Vivian Collings

Pipes and drums have been heard echoing in the Haliburton Highlands for over 50 years, with local band members displaying the gold, red, blue, and green tartan. You can become part of that longstanding tradition.

The Haliburton Highlanders are accepting new members into their family of pipers and drummers, and no experience is necessary.

“Being a part of the band is the best part,” said Haliburton Highlanders Pipes and Drums band manager Emily Stonehouse when asked what she enjoys most about playing the bagpipes. “Everyone supports everyone. We laugh, we joke, we play. We’re always learning, and even though I’ve been playing a few years, there’s still so much more to learn, and the band has supported every step.”

Brian Sachs has been a member of the Haliburton Highlanders Pipes and Drums for 36 years.

The musician joined the band when he moved to Haliburton in 1986, and he said it continues to bring the same fulfillment to his life as when he started.

“The social part of it is huge. We’ve all become good friends because we get to see each other each week. We talk as much as we practice,” Sachs laughed.

In addition to creating connections with each other, getting to play in the community allows for band members to see people at their high and low points.

“It’s brought an immense opportunity for connections in the community,” said Stonehouse. “When you tell people you play the bagpipes, it always sparks a conversation.”

She said playing for former pipe major Earl Cooper’s funeral was one of her first performances and an experience she will always remember.

“The community gathered to share sadness and mourn,” Stonehouse said. “I’ve also piped at weddings, including my own. The bagpipes are for celebration; beginnings, endings, and everything in between.”

Bagpipes can evoke strong emotions in all that hear and play them. Stonehouse said having the opportunity to allow people to feel highs and lows through music is fulfilling.

Sachs remembered his first experience hearing bagpipes as a child very well.

“I was sitting on the curb in Listowel during a parade. I just remember seeing these pipers come down the road, and I didn’t think they were people. It was the first time I had ever seen them. I was so taken aback by them. I think that’s where I was hooked,” said the long-time member.

Sachs said he sees the same awe on the faces of children as the Haliburton Highlanders march in parades.

“It’s funny because I see eyes light up as we come down the street, particularly in the really young kids.”

Sachs said all you need to have to play in the band is enthusiasm to play and a bit of physical strength.

“If you have the desire to learn to play the pipes or the drums, we’ll help you become a piper or drummer, but you need to have strong enthusiasm. It may take a few years before you are ready to play in public,” he said. 

Stonehouse added that bagpipes are a difficult instrument to learn, but the experience of learning to play is just as enjoyable as being able to play full songs.

“It’s a challenging instrument, but one that you can see the improvements with when you actually practice. Probably a good metaphor for anything in life,” Stonehouse said.

Band history

The band and a few lucky community members recently had the opportunity to experience a Robbie Burns supper at the Haliburton Legion on Saturday, Jan. 21 after missing a few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Burns was a Scottish poet born on Jan. 25, 1759. Traditionally, Robbie Burns dinners are hosted on his birthday and feature Scottish food, music, and dancing.

Eleanor Cooper said she has been attending Robbie Burns suppers in Haliburton since they began when her husband, Earl Cooper, was the pipe major.

The band was formed in the summer of 1969 by Don Johnston, Earl Cooper, and Don Wright. The original band consisted of 10 students around Grade 8 or Grade 9 and five adults. 

Their first performance was on Nov. 30, 1970 for Saint Andrew’s Day.

They played in their first parade on Apr. 30, 1972 and led the Ladies Auxiliary from the Haliburton Legion to the Haliburton cenotaph.

“The band knew two tunes at the time and played one after the other, back to back,” Sachs said.

Both Don Johnston and Earl Cooper have since passed, but their legacy is woven into the wool of the tartan worn by today’s Haliburton Highlanders.

Approximately 100 people have been members of the band over the past 52 years.

Originally, the band was called the Haliburton Legion Pipes and Drums. At that time, almost each Legion had a band, but now they are “few and far between,” Sachs said.

They took on their current name around 1995 and began managing themselves. 

The present band has 14 members: eight pipers, five drummers, and one administrator. They attend five to seven parades each year and practice once a week in the main hall of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129 from 7 to 9 p.m.

In the summer, they practice at the town docks in Haliburton. 

“Senior members of the band will teach and instruct, provide all equipment and instruments needed, and we encourage and cheer on our recruits,”Sachs said.

There is no cost to band members, and all ages are welcome to join.

“All we ask is that you give it an honest effort. Our senior piper in the band, Jim Thomson, started learning the pipes at age seven it Scotland. We are certainly not opposed to having somebody that young, and we also are not opposed to having somebody 70 years of age, as long as they are realistic about what they are able to do,” he said.

If you have an interest in joining the band or have any questions, reach out to pipe major Andrew Mansfield at 613-318-9037 or Brian Sachs at 705-457-3640.

“I’m excited to see what else the band can do together with more members,” said Stonehouse.