The Edmonton Pipe and Drums

The Great War was Canada’s first act on the world’s stage. Like each nation at war, certain stereotypes emerged as members of the Canadian Corps fought and died across the world. By war’s end, a strong picture of Canadians had emerged - that of “The Canuck”.

The picture of a “rugged colonial” is personified in the Canadian Canuck. From the rocky coasts of the Maritimes, the industrial heartland of Ontario, wide expanses of farmland on the Prairies, and the timbered coastline of British Columbia, the Canadian identity is defined by rough conditions and rugged frontiersmen.

However strongly these men identified with the Canadian identity, they never forgot their roots. Just a week removed from the outbreak of war, some members of the Edmonton Police Force decided to enlist as a pipe and drum band. 

Pipers has served in the ranks of the United Kingdom, even before the union of Scotland and England in 1707. Historically, pipers were used to signal Calvary and infantry movements. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Scottish regiments revived the art, steeling the nerves of men heading into battle. 

The initiative came just a few days following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. As a British dominion, Canada declared war whenever and against whomever Britain did. 

On August 12th, 1914, 12 men of the Edmonton Caledonian Pipe Band joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment. Led by Pipe-Major John Colville, the men appeared in full highland dress, announcing they were there to, as he put it; 

“... to play the Battalion to France and back”.

And play they did. Pipers were the first over the top, playing the regimental march “All Blue Bonnets Are Over the Border”, spurring both anxious and excited soldiers over the top. 

But they were no mere pipers. In addition to playing the men into battle, the Pipe and Drummers acted as stretcher bearers - rescuing the same men whom they had just sent off. Both tasks were made much more treacherous by the fact the members were unarmed while performing both duties. 

In the face of immeasurable danger, distress, and despair, the men of the Edmonton Pipe and Drums acted with valour. 

Sergeant John MacDonald, Piper Jock Robertson and Drummer William Miller were each awarded the Distinguished Combat Medal, typically awarded for “distinguished, gallant, and good conduct in the field”.

Sergeant John Ritchie was also awarded the Meritorious Service Medal - the name describing the actions performed to earn the medal itself. 

Following the end of the war, and prior to their demobilization, the men of the Pipe and Drums performed at the wedding of their regiment’s namesake, Princess Patricia. Afterwards, the men were demobilized, and returned to their civilian lives - though the pipes would fall silent, a new generation would soon play them. 

In 1961, a new group descended from Scottish and Irish immigrants auditioned for then Chief of EPS M.F.E Anthony. Their performance impressed, and Anthony endorsed them as the official band of the Edmonton Police Service. 

Though they no longer pipe men into battle on foreign soil, the military history of the Edmonton Pipe and Drum band is etched deeply into their instruments. Alongside their historic partnership with the PPCLI, the band has forged close ties with the 49th Battalion, colloquially known at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, the Airborne Regiment, and the HCMS Edmonton.

The pipes of the past permeate the present. No Stone Left Alone is proud to work with the Edmonton Pipe and Drum band, as we both participate in our November 5th Ceremony at Beechmount Cemetery.