The Glen Orchestra

2016 Jul

The-Glen-OrchestraThe Glen Orchestra was one of the most popular performance groups in Glengarry for over 15 years. They played from St Eugene to Berwick, but were most popular in the North Glengarry area.

They had an impact not only on the culture of Glengarry at the time they played, but most members went on to be important contributors to such groups as the Brigadoons, The Glengarry Old Time Fiddlers and the Glengarry Strathspey and Reel Society.  As such, their influence was far reaching as they took the music of the Glen Orchestra to the newer groups.  Indeed many of the tunes that fiddlers still play in Glengarry were ones that the Glen Orchestra made popular.

This orchestra played with various personnel from approximately 1955 to 1970 in all the local halls – Dunvegan, MacCrimmon, Greenfield, Maxville, Cassburn, Barb, Glen Sandfield, Vankleek Hill, Bainsville, The Bonnie Glen west of Alexandria, St. Eugene and they were very popular in the  Berwick area. They also played at many church socials, benefit dances, junior farmer events and house parties as individual performers.

The orchestra was started in part to replace the MacDonald Brothers (MacCrimmon) who were beginning to retire. Started by Hugh Allan MacMillan and Rene Trottier who took turns playing the violin and piano, the performers changed over the years. Donald Ian MacLeod replaced Hugh Allan in the group playing the fiddle, Rene mainly played the piano and they had a series of guitar players – Jack Smith, Mike Gibbs, John-Paul Vachon, Alcide Lavigne and John MacCaskill. After Rene got married and moved to Stittsville, Beverly MacQueen played the piano for them and when Beverly retired, Elmer MacDonald took over that instrument.

They played mostly Scottish music and the dances usually started at 9pm and often lasted long past 2:30 am. The dances typically featured 3 or 4 square dances. The rest of the dance was round dancing with mainly waltzes. When asked what they remembered most about the orchestra, more than one member replied that “We had lots of fun.”

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