A wee lad from Fife who could light up a room with his smile!
Wearing light summer clothing, John Hamilton boarded the flight in mid-September, 1965 from Scotland - along with Eck Brown and Curley Brown (no relation) - they had no idea what to expect on the far end! What did the future hold? Would they be accepted by the pipe band in Calgary that put so much stock in them? What about the weather?
Little did they know, there was a storm brewing on the far end. When the plane touched down in Calgary, they looked out the cabin window....white! Two foot drifts along the side of runway!
One of them remarked..."What the hell did we get ourselves into?"
Months before, Jim McWilliams and Brian 'Kipper' Collard, flew to Fife to a Bowhill Colliery PB practice to make an offer - to entice three key members of this World Champion drum corps to immigrate to Canada. The coal industry was waining and Scots were looking for a bridge to a better life. Those who did well in the world of piping had an extra advantage as the Canadian pipe bands were actively courting bandsmen who would serve to enhance their band's edge.
They were met at the airport by three members of the newly minted Clan McBain Pipe Band, Rodger Yule, Bob Amiss and Alan Redford.
A credit to any pipe band he played for, John 'Hammy' Hamilton was a team player and a great asset!
They piled into a few cars and headed to the home of Merritt Chisholm, a well heeled piper in the band who had done well in business and lived in a big place on the west end of Calgary. Al remembers that he and his wife Dianne were without snow tires and unable to negotiate the steep driveway to Merritt's place. They abandoned the car and made their way on foot through the drifts to the front door.
Pipe band drumming, to that point was quite adequate in Western Canada. What these drummers offered was something quite different! The bar was about to be raised, and the style and execution changed forever.
The pipers felt a surge of energy at the first practice. When the command was given..."By the centre...quick march...! The two three pace rolls were quite unlike anything the band had heard before. Rodger Yule confided that his initial reaction (under his breath) was...'Holy shit!"
This was the game changer that everyone was hoping for! Seven paces of crisp, clear crescendo's set the tempo for what was to come. Hammy beamed from ear to ear! He could feel the excitement as the pipers looked at one and other.
The three Fifers were given jobs at the Hudson's Bay Company warehouse. Although Eck stayed there for the ensuing 38 years, Curley decided to leave the band for greener pastures. He and Jean first ventured North then West. He eventually found comfort in a return home to Scotland. Hammy left the employ of the HBC and was hired by the City of Calgary, a job that he would enjoy until the end of his working years.
In the years that followed, the band became a formidable foe against the Grade One bands in Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg Port Moody, Vancouver and Victoria, BC. Hammy had been a student of Eck Brown's since the early days in Scotland. His fine tuned ear and ability to read Eck's direction was second nature. The Clan McBain Drum Corps was cleaning up at the competitions across the west. The other drum corps struggled until they too became as competitive and proficient as Eck's drum corps.
Hammy's wife Hannah and Eck's wife Evelynn dubbed the drum corps..."The Glamour Boys' and it stuck.
When McBain folded, Hammy was lured to the Calgary Police Service PB while Eck continued to teach and judge.
Hammy's quick wit, easy personality and indomitable spirit always served him well. When it came time to retire, Hammy and Hannah decided to settle in the sunny Okanagan. The physical work he had done with the City of Calgary, and carrying a side drum with a shoulder sling for so many years took its toll on Wee Hammy.
Among other issues, he suffered from COPD. The forest fires in the Okanagan valley during the summer of 2021 exacerbated Hammy's compromised respiratory system.
He passed quietly with family by his side in August 2021. On Sept 3rd, a wake was held in Calgary at Buffalo Bob's pub, his favourite watering hole and everyone raised a glass to the memory of Wee Hammy.....a 6'5" personality in a 5'5" frame!
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.
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