The MacDonald Brothers (The Dougie Boys) from McCrimmon Corners have been synonymous with Scottish fiddle music in Glengarry since the 1940s. Duncan J, Donald M, Hughie D. and Elmer J, sons of Dougie MacDonald and his wife Margaret F. MacLeod have entertained at dances, Christmas concerts, house parties, lawn socials and concerts throughout eastern Ontario for more than 50 years. They played in the main local dance orchestras of the time; and at various times, individually or together have been part of the Skye Orchestra, the MacCrimmon and MacDonald Brothers Orchestra, the Glengarrians, The Glengarry Old Time Fiddlers, The Glengarry Strathspey and Reel Society and the Lochiel Strings and as well being featured individual artists in their own right.
Duncan and Donald were the featured fiddlers, Elmer played the guitar and piano and Hughie played the violin, piano and guitar. Other musicians over the years included Donald Joseph MacPhee, Rod MacPhee, Beverly MacQueen, and James Nixon as sometimes, the group divided into two groups in order to play at two places on the same night.
In the forties and fifties, the dances were held in local schools and small halls. The circuit included MacCrimmon East, MacCrimmon West, Pine Grove and Big Beaver schools. Halls included MacCrimmon, Dalkeith, Greenfield, Glen Sandfield, Dunvegan, Cassburn, Barb, Lochiel, Maxville, Fourier, Alexandria, Williamstown, the Lachute Legion and the Green Valley Pavilion. The old Green Valley Pavilion was a popular dance hall and it was considered an honour to play there. Dances at the Lachute Legion were noted for their square dances, – one right after another which was an endurance contest for the musicians.
Dances were held for people leaving for war service overseas, returning veterans, benefits (fire, etc.), barn dances, wedding receptions, and anniversaries. A record book for the years 1951 to 1955 indicated the popularity of the orchestra: 74 events in 1951, 68 in 1952, 73 in 1953, 54 in 1954 and 47 in 1955.
The usual dance numbers included foxtrots, waltzes and square dances. A typical evening featured three square dances with three changes each. Callers such as Greg Nixon, Borden Avery and Hugh Angus Kennedy were usually available for these dances.
Popular tunes were the Balkan Hills, The Road to the Isles, Seamus O’Brien, Over the Waves, Bonaparte’s Retreat, Walking Uptown, Rippling Water Jig and You are My Sunshine. These tunes even 50 years later are referred to as “Dougie Boys Tunes” or “MacCrimmon Hall Tunes.”
Duncan “Dougie” is the oldest of the MacDonald Brothers and is one of Glengarry’s best known players. He originally played with the Skye Orchestra before forming the MacCrimmon Orchestra. He learned to play by listening to Donald R MacDonald from MacCrimmon and Don Messer. Duncan is an active member of the Glengarry Strathspey and Reel Society and the Lochiel Strings.
Donald “Dougie” was also another well known player with a remarkable collection of old time tunes. In addition to playing with a number orchestras, he was well known as a solo player particularly for having played at the Atlantic Hotel in Alexandria in the sixties and the early seventies.
Hughie “Dougie” is an accomplished fiddler and piano player. Although living in the Ompah area of Ontario, he still manages to play on a number of occasions. One of his signature tunes was a French-Canadian Tune called the Hangman’s Reel for which the violin is tuned differently and is difficult to play.
Elmer “Dougie” is known far and wide for his piano, guitar and bass playing skills. He has played with the MacCrimmon Orchestra, the Glen Orchestra, the Glengarry Old Time Fiddlers, the Glengarrians (a Scottish Country Dance Band) and as well accompanied Donald Ian MacLeod at the Atlantic Hotel in Alexandria in the sixties and early seventies.
James Nixon from the Ridge Road also played the piano with this popular orchestra. Among his other talents including playing the fiddle and the ragtime piano, he is well known for playing the electric organ at many parties and dances.
Beverly MacQueen also played the piano and violin with this orchestra. He learned to play the piano first and played at his first dance when he was eleven years old. Although he was an accomplished violinist, he is best known for his ability to chord on the piano.
The MacPhee brothers from Lochiel were also members of this orchestra. Donald Joseph was a popular guitar player over the years and Roddie was noted for his fiddle playing.
It is interesting to note that Rod MacPhee and Duncan Dougie MacDonald played music together more than 50 years ago, and now in retirement, they are fellow members of the Lochiel Strings and are still entertaining Glengarrians. They often reminisce about the “good old days” of the MacDonald Brothers Orchestra.