Our Town

Pipe major steps down

Pipe Major Dave Ekskog receives a Diamond Jubilee medal in 2013 from MP David Wilks. - Photo submitted
Pipe Major Dave Ekskog receives a Diamond Jubilee medal in 2013 from MP David Wilks.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Liela Cooper

For the Townsman

I first met Dave Ekskog when I was 13 years old. The pipe band had played at the Blossom Festival Parade in Creston and were playing afterwards in a park. So, I walked up to the tallest guy in the band and asked him if he would play a Highland Fling so I could dance. He agreed and the rest, as they say, is history!

Dave has been the Pipe Major of the Kimberley Pipe Band for 37 years. Under his leadership, our band has represented Kimberley at hundreds of parades for civic celebrations, cenotaph services, weddings, funerals, birthdays, highland games and numerous Tattooes.

Julyfest Parade this weekend will be Dave's last parade. Although Dave is retiring as Pipe Major of our band, he will remain in the band as a playing member.

Since Dave made the decision to retire as Pipe Major of our band, I've had time to think of the contribution he has made to our band, my dancers and our community.

Believe it or not, Dave Ekskog actually started his piping career as a drummer! He was 13 years old when he started lessons. His original drum teacher was Eric Bisgrove, who played snare, tenor and bass drum with the KPB for 61 years.

After a few drum lessons, Eric suggested he take up piping because the band had a good size drum corps but was in short supply of pipers. So he took up the pipes instead and never looked back.

His first teacher was Gordon Stewart, followed by Bob Adams for six months, then Pipe Major Hamish Scott took over his instruction.

In the summers of 1967 and 1968, Dave attended piping school in Spokane where he formed lifelong friendships with pipers like Ian MacCrimmon, David Hogg, Maureen Soichuk, Scot Koretgaard and Dan Deisner.

He also attended piping school in Nelson in 1971.

When Dave started to play with the band in 1965, Hamish Scott was the Pipe Major and Eric Bisgrove was Drum Sergeant.

Dave graduated from Selkirk School in 1969 and began working for BC Hydro. He then got an apprenticeship from Cominco and went away to Nanaimo to trade school.

While visiting his mom in Vancouver, he met his wife, Sharon. They were married in 1972 and the pipe band was present at their wedding. They made their first home in Castlegar. In 1973 they moved to Elkford where Dave continued to work as a mechanic for Cominco. While in Trail, he played one year with the Trail Pipe Band.

In 1976, Dave, Sharon and their children Patrick and Stacy moved to Kimberley, where all but Patrick live today. Dave took over as Pipe Major from Jim Warriner in the fall of 1978.

In 1977, the band celebrated its 50th anniversary and Dave played with the band at the Tattoo held in the summer of that year.

During Dave's tenure as Pipe Major, the band celebrated three more milestones: 60th, 70th and an 80th, all of which came and went with hard work, huge fundraising and great fanfare!

The band also recorded a CD – "Stuck on Track – filled with our most popular tunes.

Dave has always believed that new pipers were the future of the band and has taught chanter and pipes to both children and adult learners.

From 2004 to 2014, Dave gave all the instruction to the Army Cadets in Creston. He drove to Creston weekly to help these students form a Cadet Pipe Band. In 2010 the Creston cadets amalgamated with Cranbrook so the instruction took place there.

Through his instruction and guidance, the band played in the Sam Steele Days parade in Cranbrook in 2006 and also competed in Grade 5 at the Canmore Highland Games. Because of his contribution, he was made Honorary Captain of the Cadets.

In 2013 Dave was the recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for outstanding contributions to this community and to Canada. Dave was nominated for this Recognition Award by Struan Robertson and Albert Hoglund.

In the summer of 2010 the band auditioned for and was invited to Halifax to participate in the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It was an amazing and memorable two weeks for the band, which culminated with a week's worth of nightly performances at Metro Centre for an audience of over 6,000 per show.

One of the highlights for the band was the July 1 parade through the streets of Halifax with brilliant blue skies and tens of thousands of people waving Canadian flags as the pipe band marched by. For a small-town band like ours, playing for that size of audience, in an excellent venue, in a show as renowned as the Halifax Tattoo was certainly an event that Dave can be proud of.

Over the years, Dave has taught many students around his kitchen table. As Eric Bisgrove said: "If it wasn't for Dave's commitment to teaching new students, we probably wouldn't have a band today. I worked pretty hard too with drummers but not as hard as Dave. When Dave took over as a Pipe Major, a lot of new, strong pipers were coming up as well. We went from playing traditional Scottish tunes to more interesting and challenging music like jigs, reels and medleys – some really great music."

When his wife Sharon was asked what she thought his biggest accomplishment was, her reply was "to teach people how to play well, be successful with it and to have fun".

What has changed in the band over the past 35 years? Sharon answered: "The quality of playing is far superior to what it was years ago. I have seen huge improvement.

"When I started with the band, families never seemed to be present at functions. Now at almost every parade and event there are kids, wives, parents... very much a family band. Our annual band barbecue now centres around families and kids games."

The band has always called itself a "working man's band" and it's true. The lessons are given in exchange for the expectation that you will eventually join the ranks and become a playing member. Besides three generations of Ekskogs – Dave, daughter Stacy and grandson Bradon – there have been numerous families who have played in the band at the same time. Presently, Lisa, Gerry and daughter Mariah Whitlock, Bill Plant and grandson Isaac, Liela and sister Laura Cooper, Jim Feenstra and partner Tammy Templeton.

The band is not corporately sponsored so, for operating costs, the band relies entirely on fundraising and the money it receives while on parade. Pipers supply their own bagpipes but everything else you see on parade is funded by the band itself –drums, sticks, uniforms, right down to the laces for the shoes. Much of the fundraising effort involves the participation from wives of band members and Sharon was always involved.

The band has competed in competitions at the Canmore Highland Games and, more recently, the Spring Fling, an annual fun-filled piping, drumming and entertainment event held within the Interior of B.C. This past May, the Kimberley Pipe Band won trophies for Best Dance, Best Skit/Song, second in Dress and Deportment as well as a large trophy for Best Overall Band in the competition held in Kamloops. It was a great way for Dave to finish off his career as Pipe Major.

After a short break from the band, Dave plans to return as a playing member. Jock MacDonald will take over as Pipe Major with Liela Cooper, Angus Beaton and Jim Feenstra as Pipe Sergeants.

What are you most proud of?

"The current size and playing abilities of the band allows our competition pieces to get better every year. I enjoy watching the success of former students."

How has the band changed in 37 years as Pipe Major?

"Because of the internet, we have access to so much information and to music. It allows us to see what every other band, all over the world is doing. We have more young players in our band. We play more jigs, reels and more exciting and interesting music. That as well as having a drum core that learns new drum rudiments. Piping and drumming have changed and improved so much. It allows us to put a better product out there on the street. We also decided to change our uniforms twenty years ago and put away the beloved but detested Full Dress. We are so much more comfortable in the Argyle jackets worn now."

What would you do differently?

"I don't know if I'd do too much different. Over the years, my temperament and patience improved a lot. It allowed me to be more understanding of people who struggle with learning music and other aspects that come with being in a pipe band. I see so much more commitment by members of the band; they work so much harder to put a great new set of tunes together every year."

Thoughts on the future of the band:

"No worries at all about the future of the band. The biggest challenge still remains the working schedule of some of our members. Some work away or are shift workers so it's sometimes hard to get a full band out to practice on Monday nights or for a parade."

Jock McDonald, Liela Cooper, Angus Beaton and Jim Feenstra:

"Collectively, they have over 100 years experience with this band. Jock will do a fine job as Pipe Major. Liela, Angus and Jim will all want to put out a good product and will do what it takes to help Jock get it done. No worries at all."

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