The Sir John A. Macdonald Composing Competition by Bob Macdonald, Clan Donald Society of Canada

Cataraqui Cemetery, which is situated on the west side of Kingston, Ontario, contains the grave site of Sir John A. Macdonald, one of that founding fathers of our country and Canada’s first Prime Minister who died on June 6,1891. On June 6 each year the Kingston Historical Society holdsa commemorative service at this cemetery where wreaths are laid by representatives from the various levels of government and other interested organizations. For a number of years now the Clan Donald Society of Canada has been privileged to take part in the ceremony.

Clan Donald’s involvement at Cataraqui led to the idea of a new piobaireachd to be named in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald, and to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of his death. Clan Donald also felt that by sponsoring a competition for such a tune, it would create some incentive and encouragement to the piping fraternity to engage in the art and skill appropriate to the development of the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.

The Piper & Drummer magazine was most receptive to the proposal and was given a free hand to run the competition, including the selection of judges and the allocation of prize money. Notice of the competition was published in the Piper & Drummer, and entries from Scotland, the United States and Canada were received.

Each competitor submitted a manuscript and cassette recording of their entry. The judges of the competition, Pipe-Majors Archie Cairns and Ed Neigh, were provided with all entries and a compilation tape of the twelve entries. They then undertook the difficult task of choosing a winner and two honourable mentions.

The winner of the contest was Colin MacLellan of Maxville, Ontario. Colin received $700, and took part in the official ceremony marking the hundredth anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s passing. Colin’s tune is published in this edition of the Piper & Drummer.

The two honourable merit awards of $100 each were presented to Bruce Burt of Wyandotte, Michigan, and Michael Grey of Willowdale, Ontario.

A fitting sequel occurred on June 6,1991, at Cataraqui Cemetery with a large crowd in attendance. The guest speaker for the occasion was our present Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, who paid tribute to our first Prime Minister. Following this, Bob Macdonald of the Clan Donald Society of Canada gave a brief explanation of what a piobaireachd is all about, and then introduced Colin MacLellan to play his winning tune, “Salute to Sir John A. Macdonald – Canada’s First Prime Minister.”

The playing of the piobarieachd coincided with the laying of seventeen wreaths by official guests, each of whom was escorted by a member of the Fort Henry Guard, resplendent in full dress uniform. Colin took up a position on the top of the gentle slope overlooking the grave site, where a beautiful rendering of his composition, played on an excellent pipe, provided a fitting aura of dignity and solemnity to the occasion. Although the audience was not of the piping fraternity, they were clearly moved by the event and broke into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of the piobaireachd.

Our thanks and appreciation go to all who participated in this prestigious contest, and it is our sincere hope that further events similar to the Sir John A. Macdonald Composition Competition will take place in the near future.


The Tune: “Salute to Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s First Prime Minister” is the first prize winning tune in the piobaireachd composing contest sponsored by The Clan Donald Society of Canada and organized by the Viper & Drummer. The tune commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir John A. Macdonald. The piobaireachd was performed by the composer on June 6,1991, at the burial place of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston, Ontario, as the current Prime Minister of Canada laid a wreath at the grave site.

The Composer: Colin MacLellan is one of Canada’s foremost pipers. Among bis awards are the Gold Medal at Inverness (1982) and The Silver Chanter at Dunvegan (1990). He lives in Maxville, Ontario, with his wife, Shelly, and their two children.

Originally published in “The Piper & Drummer,” Vol. 8. Issue No. 4 (August 1991), The publication of the Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario, Editor, Andrew Berthoff.