Seeking info on piper Walter Beaton

Opinion

To the Editor:

My name is Barry Shears and I am a highland piper originally from Glace Bay, NS, now living in BC. I have already published six books of pipe music and bagpipe history from Nova Scotia but my research is far from complete. More info and a short bio can be found at capebretonpiper.com.

A big part of my spare is spent researching pipers in Nova Scotia and more recently PEI.

To that end I have gathered a lot of information about a famous Pictonian piper named David Walter Beaton (1855-1922), or, as he was known after his father’s death, Walter Beaton.

He was born at Pleasant Valley, Pictou County, known at one time as Beaton Settlement, and the family are most likely descended from John Beathune, who was listed as a tax collector in the 1850s. The Beatons were a musical family. Walter Beaton’s father Walter, grandfather, John, and his four brothers were all pipers. In additon several members of the Beaton family also played the violin and danced. According to his obituary Walter “expressed exceptional talent in the playing of the bagpipes and violin, but excelled particularly in playing the pipes, to which he devoted more attention, having an ability to master the old Scottish music that was considered extraordinary at the time.”

During the late 1880s Walter Beaton left Nova Scotia and joined his brother Norman, also a piper, in San Francisco, Calif. In 1889 Walter placed 1st in the local competition for pipe music and performed on the violin at various functions. Norman had emigrated from Nova Scotia in the mid-1870s and eventually secured a job as manager of the Scottish Hall in San Francisco where he organized regular dances. The Scottish Hall was established by the St. Andrews Society and the Caledonia Club, the latter being an organization begun by several Nova Scotians to promote Scottish heritage.

Norman was at one time considered by some to be the best piper on the Pacific Coast. He was referred to as Professor Beaton in several newspapers and he set up a dancing academy on Fulton Street in San Francisco 1886. He was a successful highland dance competitor in California and in 1880 also won 1st place for throwing the light hammer at the local Scottish Gathering. He died young in 1891 aged 45. The funeral was covered by two San Francisco newspapers and featured artist’s sketches of the grieving widow and several pipers dressed in kilts. Norman was survived by his wife Winnie, and son, Norman Macleod Caledonia Beaton.

Life in California didn’t appeal to Walter Beaton and he eventually returned to Nova Scotia. He continued to play and compete in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, as well as appearing at many festivals and exhibitions. Walter was at one time pipe major of the 78th (Pictou) Highlanders and taught several pipers how to play and read music. After the First World War Walter left his job due to poor health, and being a bachelor he moved in with his sister, Mrs. Norman Macleod, Rocklin. His numerous piping medals were once on display at the Greenhiill Museum, where they were described as belonging to “piper Beaton, Nova Scotia’s greatest piper.” After the closure of the museum the medals were given to the Nova Scotia Museum.

I have contacted a few local people about the Beaton family of Pleasant Valley and there isn’t much information available.

I think more Nova Scotians would be interested in the quality of musicians the province has produced over the past 200 years. You never know, there may be descendants still in Pictou County who would provide additional information.

I am looking for any information and old photos of the old pipers from Pictou County as well as any additional information on the Beaton family. I am also interested in any collections of pipe music which may have survived into the 21st century.

Please contact me with information: capebretonpiper@gmail.com.

Barry Shears

Royston, BC