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A final farewell to 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron’s Pipes and Drums band

By Martin Zeilig

A final farewell for a distinguished part of 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron’s heritage will take place in Hangar 16 (402 Sqdn side) starting at 10AM on May 3—the disbandment ceremony for the renowned squadron’s Pipes and Drums.

The Pipes and Drums have a rich 70-year history. Formed in 1954, it evolved from the Winnipeg Thistle Pipes and Drums. The band has performed across North America and internationally, including events like the Rose Bowl Parade and the Pan American Games.

The band has seen significant figures, such as its first Pipe Major J. Reay and the only Drum Major, Cliff Cooke, who joined in 1967. John Reay Sr., a renowned piper, was instrumental in forming the band, which initially included members from his Thistle Pipe Band.

Over the years, the band has won numerous competitions, received invitations to prestigious events, and has been recognized as ambassadors for the Squadron and Canada. Their performances have left lasting impressions worldwide.

As the guest band at the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 15-18 May 1992, the Band led the parade in the opening and closing ceremonies. Several members won individual competitions: Pte Sean Osztian and Cpl James Symonds (former CO, LCol Symonds’ son) each won silver in the drumming competitions; Cpl Douglas Knight won the gold medal in Piping; and Pte K.L. MacDonald won the gold medal in all five of her dance competitions. MacDonald, who went on to win the Jack Reeve Award for the Squadron’s Airwoman of the year, was also named Dancer of the Day, and presented with two additional trophies for her feats.

The Band’s performance may have hit a high mark during the Squadron’s the 70th Anniversary in October 2022, when they delivered a rendition of Amazing Grace so stirring that many Squadron vets, including the late D.B. Riddell, a Second World War Spitfire pilot who attended in a wheelchair, openly wept. Such is the power of their piping.

The band’s legacy is celebrated for its ambassadorial role and the emotional impact of its music, exemplified by performances at significant events like the 1967 Pan Am Games and the commissioning of HMCS Winnipeg.

The Pipes and Drums band have made a significant contribution to 402 Squadron’s history and Canadian culture.

Thanks to 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron for providing the original, well researched historical document.

This article was written with the assistance of Copilot. 

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