Duncan W. McDonald, the son of Hugh Allan McDonald and Catherine MacLeod, was born on January 8, 1906 in Glen Sanfield. He married Mary Marcella McDonell, daughter of Angus A. (Sandy) & Margaret (Weir) McDonell and had three children, Theresa, Margaret and Daniel.
As with many Glengarrians, Duncan’s roots go back to Scotland; his grandfather, Hughie (Big Allan) came over from Scotland and set up farming in Glen Sandfield. Music was an intrinsic part of the MacDonald family. His father, Hugh Allen, played the bagpipes as did his brother, Ambrose and himself. The violin was also a popular instrument among the family as at least three of his sisters, Theresa, Allie & Maggie, his brother Johnny Hughie and of course, Duncan himself all played. As one would expect, their home was full of music, a tradition that he and his siblings passed down to their families and they, in turn, continue to do so.
World War II began and Duncan went overseas to serve his country. He enlisted as a foot soldier, but when it was discovered that he could play the bagpipes, Duncan was assigned to the band of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment. While there, he had the honour of playing for the Queen Mother and, along with two other pipers (Hector MacDonald and Willie Hannah), the distinction of playing a lament at the burial of 55 members of the Black Watch following the fighting at the Battle of Antwerp in October of 1944.
Duncan returned to Canada five days before V-E Day and marched in the Victory Parade. He continued his piping and belonged to the S.D.&G. Pipe Band and the Royal Canadian Legion Pipe Band. As a member of these bands, he took part in many parades held throughout the counties and with the S.D.& G., played at the Glengarry Highland Games. In addition, he piped for weddings, funerals, fairs and dancing competitions. Unfortunately, in the early sixties, he was forced to give up playing the pipes when he contracted emphysema.
However, music was still very much part of his life; Duncan had been playing the violin from an early age and now he had more time to devote to his favourite pastime. He was always in demand to play at parties, concerts, weddings and of course, dances. He was a favourite at dances because he played his fiddle with such emotion that one could not help but feel the music; consequently, the floor would fill up each time he played. He was also a regular at Rev. John MacPhail’s concerts at the Alexander Hall where he played with all the Scottish fiddlers of the day. He was now playing a violin that he had found in a bombed-out concert hall in Germany.
Duncan’s home was always open to his fellow musicians; among them were Rev. John MacPhail, Cliff Britton, Lucien Ranger, Little Jack McDonald, Viola MacCuaig, Little Harry McKenzie, John Angus (Dan Jim) MacDonald, etc. They each had their own style, but they all had one thing in common, their love of playing Celtic music. “Duncie Picket” (a nickname he picked up along the way) gave generously of his time and his talent. Through the years he gave much pleasure to those who enjoyed listening to him; this was evident by the constant flow of friends and family who would drop in for a tune. Even to this day, he is remembered fondly by those of his generation who are still with us. Duncan passed away on December 8, 1974.