History

Pipe Major Williams began piping the same year he entered St. Francis Xavier University, in 1966. “I was a fast learner, and was fortunate to have excellent instructors. The young boy who gave me my first lessons was Francis Beaton, of Brierly Brook, in Antigonish County. He introduced me to his teacher, Sandy Boyd, who was living with his family and teaching Francis and his brother Allan in return for room and board. All my classes at university were in the morning so most afternoons, I went to the Beaton farm and had a lesson with Sandy before the boys got home from school. When they arrived home, I would sit in and listen while they had their lessons and when it was time for them to get their pipes out, either Francis or Allan would let me blow their pipes for a few minutes. By the time my own pipes arrived, I could already play my few tunes with three drones sounding.”
 
“The first band I played with was the fledgling Antigonish Legion Junior Pipe Band, but because they were trying to build a juvenile band, and I was already 18, I was shunted off to the Antigonish Legion Senior Pipe Band, made up mostly of adult learners though there were a few very good experienced players as well.”
 
When Pipe Major Bill Magennis of the 1st Battalion. Black Watch of Canada retired from the military and moved to Antigonish, he accepted Williams as a piper in the junior group, which was developing very quickly into an excellent competition band. He competed with them in Ontario, where they won two Grade 3 North American Championships. When the Graded System was adopted in Atlantic Canada, Williams became a full member of the band, and later was the band’s instructor when Magennis returned to Ontario.
 
“In 1974, Barry Ewen took over as the band’s pipe major and he was the third major influence in my piping,” says Williams. By that time, the band was competing in Grade 2 and in 1975, won the Grade 2 Intercontinental Pipe Band Championship. In 1976, the band competed in the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland, placing third overall in Grade 2. Unfortunately, the band was dissolved soon after, but another band grew out of the ashes, the Scotia Legion Pipe Band, Atlantic Canada’s first real Grade 1 band. Williams was part of the group of musicians that created this band, but by late 1979, a great many other pressures led him to leave the band.
 
In 1984, after  self-imposed five-year layoff, he was asked by the Antigonish Diocese to pull together a 100-musician Massed Pipe Band to perform for His Holiness, Pope John Paul II who came to visit Nova Scotia. As a result of his efforts creating that group, several experienced pipers and drummers approached him and asked him to teach a class for advanced players. Although he was adamant that he was not interested in playing in another band, The Clan Thompson Pipe Band was formed and he became its pipe major, a post he held for 22 years. The band rose quickly, and in 1989, was named the Grade 3 North American Champions. In 1993, however, Williams accepted a one-year teaching job in Scotland. The band decided to take a year off too, but it was extended into a 13 year hiatus. Williams was approached in 2006 to re-form the band and before long he had a group of 20-25 musicians working with him. This is the band he will be leaving in the fall of 2019.

You can find more history of this remarkable band here.