Memorable Manitobans: William James “Bill” MacLeod (1914-2008)
Born at Winnipeg on 13 October 1914, son of Donald MacLeod and Catherine Urquhart, his mother passed away when he was only 18 months old. He was raised by his father and an Aunt Mary until he was seven and then other family friends, Donald and Kate Spears, played a central role in his upbringing until his father re-married and he moved back into the family home. His father began teaching him the Great Highland Bagpipe when he was 13 years of age. In 1932, he joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a cadet piper and then, four years later, progressed to being a piper in the 1st Battalion Regimental Pipe Band under his father who was then the Pipe-Major.
He joined the active armed services in September 1939 and served in Britain and northwestern Europe during the Second World War with the First Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg. He became the Pipe Major of the First Battalion regimental pipe band until his return to civilian life in 1946. During his overseas service, he received training at the famous Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle under Pipe Major William “Willie” Ross. Although some members of the Battalion participated in the Dieppe raid but he did not. His first action on the continent was in Normandy in June 1944. Pipe Band members were battlefield stretcher-bearers throughout the regiment’s time on the continent. The Camerons fought through France, Belgium, The Netherlands and into Germany until 5 May 1945. He was “mentioned in dispatches” for his distinguished service.
Once back in Winnipeg after returning from Europe, Bill pursued his pre-war love and married Islay Flora Beaton (1916-1975) of Brandon on 5 January 1946 and they subsequently had two children. After stints with the Winnipeg Electric Company and Trans Canada Airlines, in 1947 he accepted a position as an industrial electrician with the Manitoba Paper Company at Pine Falls. He worked for the company for 32 years until his retirement in 1979. Five years later, he married Mary Vickers Cook (1914-2014), a widowed Pine Falls Collegiate teacher.
He was perennially involved in community organizations throughout his years in Pine Falls. He found fertile ground in Pine Falls for his piping passion and began instructing young pipers in 1965. This attracted sufficient interest that the Pine Falls Pipe Band was formed under his leadership in 1968. The band grew in size and stature and became the Stirling Pipe Band in 1972. In 1979 Stirling amalgamated with the Centennial Pipe Band to become the Stirling and Centennial Pipe Band. He was Pipe-Major for all three of these bands. These bands were all successful in the competitive circuit on the Prairies. He instructed at and later became the Principal of the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts piping program in Fort Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan, as well as instructing at the International Music Camp Summer School of the Arts at the International Peace Garden on the Manitoba / North Dakota border. He also served as the President of the Prairie Pipe Band Association. He was a long-time member and patron of the Clan MacLeod Society of Manitoba. He played regularly at Clan MacLeod events well into his late 80s. His participation was eagerly anticipated and his music honoured by society members.
In recognition of his community service, he received the Manitoba Good Citizenship Award (1979), East-Man Volunteer Award (1981), Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1991), Prairie Pipe Band Association Lifetime Membership (1991), St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg Honorary Life Membership (2004), and St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg Lord Strathcona Award (2004).
Obituary [Islay Flora MacLeod], Winnipeg Free Press, 6 February 1975, page 33.
“Manitobans’ Legacy a Better Province,” Winnipeg Free Press, 4 January 2009, page B2.
Obituary [Mary Scobie Smith MacLeod], Winnipeg Free Press, 4 April 2014.
This page was prepared by Sheldon McLeod and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 13 July 2019