It wasn't that he came from Argyll...it's that his house was located just a block north of Argyll Road in Edmonton - and besides, Kyle of Argyll had a nice ring to it!
His appearance was described best by D/Cpl Whitey Dututrie - when Norm Kyle joined the 20th Fd Regt Pipe Band as "One foot in a furrow - the other on the parade square". Norman had a unique gate which usually resulted in his being hidden somewhere in the middle of the band! Being in step was seldom an issue for Norm.
He was one of those unique individuals who could put on a uniform - everything in the right order - but it just didn't look right - nothing lined up. Pubic appearances were not Norm's strong suit. On more than one occasion we watched him roll in late for an event and assemble himself from uniform bits and pieces he mysteriously produced from the trunk of his car.
When he showed up for a Ceilidh in a suit or sports jacket, you would often spot the price tag still on the garment. It was all part of his eccentric magic!
Norm was a truly unique character. His father Donald had been a piobaireachd player and both Norman and his brother were pipers...after a fashion. Born in 1929, he grew up as farmer from the Camrose area. and was a fairly accomplished composer, reasonably good band piper and one hell of an inventor! Typical of a good farmer, he had a solution for every problem and quite able to McGiver a fix for anything that was broken. His skills in a machine shop were legendary although his business acumen left something to be desired. On more than one occasion, he was known to send an order to a customer, forget to send an invoice, then have his lawyer demand payment - all within about 10 days!
He wrote a number of pipe tunes, one of which he had entitled 'Lip Lock Annie' in fond remembrance of a female acquaintance who lived in the north. The genteel Iain MacCrimmon, wishing to publish it in his book, had to get Norm's approval to rename the tune.... 'Annie of the Lochs'. Enough said!
Norman's foray into the world of bagpipe making began in the early 1990's. He could take a block of pretty much anything and turn it into a set of bagpipes! African blackwood, rosewood, cocabolla, maple, acrylic - it was all the same to him. Although reasonably accurate in detail, his attention to the more scientific aspects of drilling holes in exactly the right place or doing it without creating stress fractures were something of a challenge. Had he devoted a little more time to finesse and consistent accuracy, Kyle of Argyll bagpipes may have enjoyed a much higher degree of success.
His innovations were novel and oft times hit the mark. The late Patrick MacIntyre played a beautiful set of Kyle maple bagpipes with tulip top drones - a style dating back to the early days of pipe making. At one point, Norman made a set of clear acrylic bagpipes - unique for sure - but enough to make traditionalists shudder at the very thought.
His machine shop was a gathering place for Norm's friends. One day, CFRN Television called Norman - the producer said they would like to do a local interest story on the Edmonton bagpipe maker. Although he was normally a one man band.....and not being one to turn down a good promotional opportunity, he wanted it to look as if this was a major operation.
Alex and Patrick (the brothers MacIntyre) and Dave Goodchild were presented with "Sound of Kyle" team jackets and handed a broom. They swept up the place in jig time and when the film crew arrived, they were all busy working away on various pieces of equipment in the Kyle of Argyll Bagpipe Factory. Alex recalls..."Nobody had a clue what the hell they were doing."
The ruse had worked! The resulting clip was fabulous, it looked very professional and busy.
Norman passed in 2000 and was buried in Tofield Alberta. He never had children, but left an indelible mark on the Edmonton piping community.
There will only be one Norman Kyle.....of Argyll!
Norm Kyle....of Argyll!
While the picture of Norman and his acrylic bagpipes illustrate his wonderfully creative nature, Rachel Biggs, the spinner of this fanciful yarn, should be taken to task for excessive creative licence with the subject matter! I am sure that Norm must have cringed when he read this fanciful and poorly written story.
Thanks to Dave Trew for this gem which appeared in WESTERN PEOPLE Magazine (a newspaper supplement from the Edmonton Journal) in late May, 1987.
Of note, a collection of Norm Kyle's pipe tunes were recently unearthed. Quite in keeping with Norman's unique and quirky personality, his penchant for naming pipe tunes was equally creative - as mentioned in the story above. There is a move afoot to perhaps publish a volume of these uniquely named compositions. If and when this happens - we will provide the contact information in this space.
Norman's father Donald Alexander was born in Tayport, Fife in 1894 and immigrated to Canada. He settled and farmed in the Peace River country. He was apparently a piper of some note and a piobaireachd player. It is assumed that he taught his sons to play the pipes.
When WW1 broke out, as he was a Scot and a piper, Donald enlisted, at the age of 22 in the 10th Battalion (Calgary Highlanders) from his home in Peace River.
He was released in August 1917 and was awarded the Military Medal. He relocated to the Camrose area which was where Norman was born.
Donald was apparently married 3 times. Norman was the fourth of five children born to Marguerite (Sutherland). According to information contained on the Ancestry website, Norman may have had an 'unidentified' son.
Donald Alexander Kyle (1894-1989)
Every band has one or two 'Characters' who surface either through word, deed or action. It may have been someone for 20 years ago who's legend has grown with time.
...take a moment to let us know more about this individual.