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Squamish bagpiper takes his pipes to Buckingham Palace

Mike MacDonald enjoys ‘pinnacle of my career in bagpiping’ on a special visit to London
Four members of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band walk across Abbey Road in London in a re-enactment of the famous Beatles album cover during their visit to London last month. Squamish-raised Mike MacDonald here is cast in the role of Paul McCartney – the one walking in bare feet.


Mike MacDonald used to play his bagpipes outside the arena before and after Vancouver Canucks games. He even spent a year regaling guests at

Tokyo Disneyland.

But the gig he and his Vancouver Police Pipe Band mates played last month in England was “the pinnacle of my career in bagpiping,” the former member of the Squamish-based Black Tusk Caledonia Pipe Band said last Wednesday (July 2).

MacDonald and the Vancouver crew marked the band’s 100th anniversary in June by playing four times at the changing of the guard — a.k.a. the “guard mount” – at Buckingham Palace and twice at
Windsor Castle.

“I’ve done a lot of different things in piping, but nothing will ever top piping at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace,” he said proudly.

MacDonald grew up in Scotland, but his grandfather was a piper in Nova Scotia. One summer when Mike was a teenager, he and his father attended a Highland Games event in Nova Scotia when about 1,500 pipers “came out from behind the beer tent and marched straight towards us,” Mike said.

“At that moment, I mouthed the words to my father, ‘I have to do that.’”

He started taking lessons in Squamish, using his grandfather’s old set of pipes. At 15, he started playing in parades and such with the Black Tusk Caledonia Pipe Band.

He first came into contact with the Vancouver Police Pipe Band after moving to the city at age 19. He went to play for a year at Tokyo Disneyland in 1999, then reconnected with the Vancouver group in 2001.

It wasn’t easy for the band to land the Buckingham Palace gig, he said. Members had a desire to do something special to mark the 100th anniversary, but it took three years of planning – and a fair bit of diligence on the part of one member in particular.

The group rounded up endorsement letters for their application by the likes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gordon Campbell, the former B.C. premier who now serves as High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom.

The Vancouver Police Pipe Band’s invitation was a coup in at least a couple of respects, MacDonald said.

“We’re not a military band,” he said. “Three-hundred fifty years of history and we’re the first non-military band to play the changing of the guard.”

On June 16, the first time the Vancouver group was to play for the guard mount, the 34 members marched from Wellington Barracks past the front of Buckingham Palace to the front of St. James’s Palace, where Prince Harry lives. “That’s where you pick up the guards and then, once you’ve done that, now you go back to Buckingham Palace to deliver them,” he said.

“We bring them the new guard and take away the old guard, but for that time period we [the band] are The Queen’s Guard,” MacDonald said with pride.