Bagpies & the Toronto Beach Easter Parade


A gentleman is someone who can play the bagpipes – and doesn’t.” – Ronnie Corbett

Toronto Fire Services Pipes & Drums tune up (if such a word can be applied to the bagpipes) before the parade.

Toronto Fire Services Pipes & Drums tune up (if such a word can be applied to the bagpipes) before the parade.

Personally I’ve always been rather fond of the skirl of the pipes. It is a sound that is both haunting and stirring. It’s said that nothing made the Germans fear so much, during to two World Wars, as the sound of bagpipes approaching in the distance. It’s never been fully explained whether this was dread of the Highland Regiments that followed behind, or concern for their own hearing.

Easter parade 2014-2

Today I had the pleasure of marching behind the Toronto Fire Services Pipes & Drums, in the annual Toronto Beach Easter Parade. (For those of you who don’t know, the south-eastern section of Toronto, along Lake Ontario has several kilometers of fine sand beach. The neighbourhood is simply known as The Beach).

The antique trucks are lined up waiting for the parade to begin.

The antique trucks are lined up waiting for the parade to begin.

The Irish invented the bagpipes as a joke and gave them to the Scottish. They still haven’t found out.” – Denis Leary

It was a fine spring day, at least for April in Toronto, after a brutally long and cold winter. The sun was shining and it was almost ten degrees above freezing. The Easter parade is a great community tradition and the neighbourhood supports it enthusiastically. It’s not a huge event like the Santa Claus Parade here in Toronto or Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York. It’s more of a cozy affair with high school and community bands, the Lions and Shriners, Scout and Guide troops, local businesses and so on. There were about a hundred groups in all, with the Fire Department leading the way once again.


A group of karate Easter Bunnies prepare to march in the parade.

A suspicious looking man walks down the street clutching a parcel tightly under his arm. “Hold on! What have you got there?” asks a police man. “Six pounds of Semtex!” exclaims the man with maniacal glee. “Oh good,” says the cop, with visible relief, “I thought it was bagpipes.”

With a roll of the drums we were off down Queen Street, the Pipe Band in the front, followed by the Colour Guard, then us leading a group of antique fire trucks. I confess I was grateful to have a bit of space between us and the band. As Yeats said, “Distance adds to the enchantment of the bagpipes”.

The sidewalks were lined with clapping and cheering people along the two kilometer route of the parade. The more cynical might claim that people were cheering that the pipers kept moving on, but I think everyone appreciates a little bagpipe music every now and then.

Question: What the difference between bagpipes and a trampoline?

Answer: Eventually people get tired of jumping on a trampoline.

easter parade 2014-1

Who is that handsome man?

One thing that always strikes me during this sort of community event is the genuine warmth and affection people express to firefighters. I’ll never forget a time several years back during a parade when an elderly woman took a few steps off the curb towards us and with tears in her eyes, proclaimed “God bless the Firemen!”

I was deeply moved. I suppose some time in the past a firefighter had made a difference in her life. I know not everyone gets that sort of positive feedback in their work. I receive it with humble gratitude. It helps make up for the times when we are witness to unspeakable tragedy.

“Bring not bagpipes to a man in trouble,” –  WC Fields


Members of the band enjoy a well deserved refreshment.

There is something about marching and piping that seems to produce a powerful thirst, and so we repaired to a local pub after the parade. Soon the pipers started playing again. If you think bagpipes are loud outside, you should hear them in the confines of a small pub! Some say it was the effect of the alcohol that got them going again, but I have a sneaking suspicion they just play until someone buys them a round to shut them up.

“Some men there are love not a gaping pig; some, that are mad if they behold a cat; and others, when the bagpipe sings…cannot contain their urine.” – William Shakespeare


  1. And The Lost Boys were playing 30 slots behind you in the parade – who knew….

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