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Major Archie Cairns, MMM, CD, 1928-2016

It is with much sadness the founding member of the PPBSO-Ottawa branch and PPBSO Lifetime Member Major Archie Cairns, MMM, CD has passed away.

Born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Archie MacNeil Cairns began piping at the age of 9 with his father, Pipe Major John Knox Cairns of the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, as his teacher. In June 1941 he was enrolled as a boy piper in that regiment, eventually becoming Pipe Major in October 1952. In June 1953 he was a soloist at the Coronation Ball for Queen Elizabeth II at the Savoy Hotel in London, England.

His accomplishments as a piper and CF Pipe Major are long and distinguished. He graduated first in his class from the Pipe Major’s Course, Army School of Piping, Edinburgh Castle (1963/1964) under Capt John A. MacLellan MBE. On his return he led the Canadian Guards Pipe Band to the North American Championship for Mini-Bands in October 1964. After a transfer to Ottawa, in 1966 he took his RCAF pipers to Glasgow where they placed 5th at the SPBA Grade 1 Quartette Competition at Bellahouston Academy behind the infamous bands Glasgow Police, Muirhead, Edinburgh Police and Shotts & Dykehead. That year P/M Cairns won the North American Solo Championship at Maxville, Ontario. In 1968 he retired from active solo competition, having won almost every major award in Eastern Canada and North Eastern USA, including being the youngest piper to win the then-coveted Hendrie Gold Medal (and Clasp) for piobaireachd.

Following a short staff assignment, late in 1970 he was posted back to CFB Ottawa as the Pipe Major of the Base Voluntary Pipe Band (now the Air Command Pipes and Drums). His last decade in the Regular Force, in Ottawa, was his most significant and noteworthy. As well as founding our Ottawa Branch of the PPBSO, he co-founded the City of Ottawa Highland Games, assisted by P/M Jack Coghill of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa. He conceived the Inter-Provincial Championships for Piping, Drumming Pipe Bands and Highland Dancing, which although lasted only four years for the pipers, drummers, and bands, have continued annually to this day for Highland Dancing. P/M Cairns was also instrumental in the establishment of the Gold Medal in Canada for piping. His proposal was made to Capt John MacLellan who sought and received approval from the Piobaireachd Society of Scotland to lend its name and prestige to this Gold Medal Piobaireachd Competition. In 1973, he became the fourth person in the world to be awarded the Diploma of Piping and the Senior Teacher’s Certificate by the Institute of Piping. In 1974, he was the first Regular Force musician to receive the Order of the Military Merit (Member). And then in 1981, he was specially honoured by being the first North American born piper to be appointed to the Adjudicator’s List of the Piobaireachd Society, Scotland.

In 1981 he retired from the Regular Force after 13 years as the Senior CF Pipe Major, and was immediately enrolled in the Reserve Force Cadet Instructors List and commissioned in the rank of Captain. Promotion to Major came in 1983 as the National Cadet Music Advisor for Pipes and Drums. A life member of the PPBSO, he along with P/M Willie Connell and Reay Mackay, formulated the Judge’s Examination in 1986 that was approved by the RSPBA, thus permitting Canadian judges to adjudicate at the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland. Two of his musical productions (“Canadiana” and “Argyll is My Name”) have been featured at the Edinburgh Tattoo and twice, he has trained composite Cadet Pipes and Drums which have performed at the Tattoo. He finally retired from the Canadian Forces in 1993 with an extraordinary four clasps to his CF Decoration (CD), signifying his 52 years as a piper, Pipe Major and commissioned officer.

In his “spare” time, he has been a prolific composer, one of his most famous tunes being a tribute to his father, P/M J.K. Cairns. He is the author of four significant piping books, the CF Pipe Band Manual, the Cadet Instruction Manual for Pipes and Drums, Pipe Music Book 1, and the “How to” Manual for Learning to Play the Great Highland Bagpipe.

On behalf of all the members of the PPBSO our respects and condolences go out the entire Cairns family.

Re-posted with the permission of the PPBSO Ottawa Branch

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