Gerald McGillis began playing the fiddle on his 13th birthday and very quickly discovered his ability to learn any tune by ear after hearing it only a couple of times. Family folklore tells us that by the time his parents returned home from mass on that special day, Gerald could deliver a perfect rendition of “The Road to the Isles,” which quickly became his signature tune. As time progressed and his repertoire grew, he became a fixture at the local dances and house parties, always willing to provide the soundtrack for the event. Gerald loved Glengarry and all the cultural aspects that its history was built on: the fiddle music, the dancing—especially the highland dancing—and the singing. He became active in all of those things throughout his life in the hometown that he loved.
Gerald never went out without his fiddle, just in case the opportunity to play might present itself. Whether traveling around the countryside close to home or in some little town he might land in on a bus trip in the States, he was always willing to get his fiddle out and join the locals. He loved music and it was a huge part of his life. Throughout his life, he played at countless concerts, reunions, parties, ceilidhs and had a long running gig at Bob’s Hotel in Dalhousie. The associations of which he would remain most proud were the Lochiel Strings, with whom he played so long and the Glengarry Old Time Fiddlers.
Gerald was also one of the big supporters of bringing highland dancing to Alexandria. When Rae MacCulloch first arrived and had no venue in which to teach, Gerald and his wife, Marguerite, quickly offered up their living room, so excited were they about the prospect of this new opportunity for the community. Rae’s clientele very quickly grew and Gerald was very proud when all five of his daughters became dancers.
In later years, Gerald was one of the first members of Ken McKenna‘s Gaelic Choir. He had grown up listening to Gaelic, as had so many people from Glengarry and the rhythms and cadence of the music resonated within him. He participated in many events and competed frequently at the Mod or Feis Glengarry, always singing his signature song: “Mo Mhathair – My Mother,” for which he won awards. He loved to sing and as with everything else he did, he gave it his all. He remained ever grateful to the McKennas for starting that choir.
Gerald will take his place among his peers as one of those wonderfully gifted and generous Glengarry souls who worked so hard to ensure that the music of our ancestors will live on. As part of the collective soul of Glengarry, he will be remembered for his contributions in bringing the joy of our music to others, from nursing homes, to living rooms, to concerts on the National Arts Centre stage.