How The College of Piping Began
Anthroplogist Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The College of Piping grew out of a small group of committed people. In the 1980s, a local committee bought a two-bedroom bungalow on Water Street in Summerside and revived a pipe band association. Volunteers taught piping, drumming and dancing part-time, but as time went on, they knew that to be successful, they needed full-time teachers for year-round instruction.
Don Groom was the piping instructor for the pipe band that folded in 1969. “Some of us got involved in the mid-1980s in starting another band in association with the Prince County Caledonia Club – an organization that held an annual St. Andrew’s Day dinner. All the instruments, uniforms and equipment were here from the 1960s and that gave us a little impetus to get the Caledonia Pipe Band going,” said Mr. Groom. Hiring Scott MacAulay in February of 1990 was the beginning of what was to become The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada. With his solid credentials as a leading international solo piper and clinician came the foundation for growth. MacAulay had just gotten the teaching bug and was in high demand when the piping world saw this talent.
A Strong Fit for The College
There is a strong fit for The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts in Prince Edward Island where 45% of people have their origins in Scotland and 25% of Islanders are descended from settlers who came out of Ireland. The Island has been described as the most Celtic of all states and provinces in North America because of this tide of immigration.
In the late 1770s, Scottish settlers were landing on the beaches of Prince Edward Island looking for a better life and more opportunities for their children. In the decades to come, they were joined by thousands of displaced Irish. Mailboxes along our shoreline roads still reflect the shipping lists of immigrants to Prince Edward Island from the late 1770s to the mid-1850s when Scottish and Irish cam to PEI in record numbers because of the Highland Clearances and Irish “Troubles” or potato famine.
With little but their Gaelic, their stories and rich musical traditions, they built their lives over again in the new world by cutting down trees, clearing farm land, building ships for trading and raising their families. It’s that Celtic spirit that gives a rich storytelling, dancing and musical tradition for most Prince Edward Islanders.
The College of Piping Today
Inspiring excellence in Celtic performing arts through quality educational programming continues to be the core mission of The College of Piping & Celtic Performing Arts of Canada. Beginning with only 30 students in 1989, The College’s student body has grown to over 250 year-round students and 200 summer school and workshop participants!
Today, The College of Piping is also a premiere cultural tourism destination on Prince Edward Island, attracting a lion’s share of travelers to the summer-long Celtic Festival. A 350-seat outdoor amphitheatre has become an extension of the classroom, giving aspiring performers the opportunity to perform with faculty and other Island talent. In 2002, Attractions Canada named the Festival as the top cultural event on PEI, as well as the “Event of National or International Interest”. The following year, Festival and Events PEI named it the “Top Festival and Event”. In 2008, The College was designated as one of only two Signature Attractions on PEI.
Throughout The College’s history, students have also been consistent winners in their respective disciplines. Here are some recent successes:
2011 – Grade 4 Pipe Band, 1st Place, North American Pipe Band Championships
2012 – Grade 3 Pipe Band, 5th Place, World Pipe Band Championships
2012 – James MacHattie, winner of the Braemar Gold Medal
2012, 2013 – Iain Speirs, winner of the Glenfiddich Championship
2013, 2014 – James MacHattie, winner of the A Grade Piobaireachd at Cowal
2013 and 2015 – 5 Highland Dance medalists at the 2013 ScotDance Championship Series Canadian Championships, including a High Aggregate
2014 – Grade 3 and 4 Pipe Bands, finalists at the World Pipe Band Championships
2015 – Grades 2, 4 and 5 Pipe Bands all place at the North American Pipe Band Championships; 3rd, 2nd and 5th respectively
Over the years, The College of Piping has also produced a number of recordings, and performed for a wide range of audiences. In 2014 The College produced a CD entitled At Long Last. In 2012 The College’s students appeared on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada; in 2011 they performed three times for the Royal Family and once again in 2014; 2010 saw The College’s students on ABC’s Live with Regis and Kelly.
Prince Edward Island Dress Tartan
In 1992, The College of Piping created the Prince Edward Island Dress Tartan, to be worn properly by any person of Island birth or residence, or indeed, by any who enjoy the romance of Scottish tradition and feel a kinship towards the Island. The Ceremonial unveiling and dedication of the new Dress Tartan took place at The College amphitheatre on Thursday, June 25, 1992.
By definition, a tartan is a crosschecked repeating pattern of varying colours woven into cloth. Tartan weaves have been used in countries all around the world, but the use of the tartan to identify and distinguish families or clans is particularly Scottish.
In addition to Clan Tartans, there are district Tartans, which are dedicated to a particular geographical area. Interestingly, the District Tartan is generally accepted as being older than the Clan Tartan. Martin Martin, a visitor to the Highlands in 1703 wrote: Every Isle differs from each other in their fancy of making Plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. The humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, insofar as they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man’s Plaid, to guess the place of his residence.
There are many District Tartans in use in Scotland and each of the Provinces and Territories of Canada has its own District Tartan. Prince Edward Island’s tartan is said to resemble an aerial view of the Island, a green, red brown and dark brown checkerboard of rolling countryside. Prince Edward Island was one of the first Provinces to adopt a Dress Tartan, a late nineteenth century innovation originally developed for evening wear. Today, Highland dancers in particular usually wear Dress Tartans because they are more eye catching that the standard tartans. The new Island Dress Tartan has a different design and substitutes white for one of the dark colours of the original tartan so as to achieve from the original tartan, but it remains distinctly Island with its green and Island red combination.
The Prince Edward Island Dress Tartan Committee:
- Ben Taylor, former Chairman, Highland Games
- The Late Scott MacAulay, Director, The College of Piping
- Barbara Brown Yorke, former Director of Dance, The College of Piping
- The Late John (Jock) Hopkirk, (who helped design the Royal Canadian Air Force Tartan in 1941)