Viola MacCuaig was born at Lorne, in Lochiel Township, the daughter of Norman B. MacRae and Mary Jane MacMillan. She started her musical journey by playing her mother’s pump organ. Because her legs were too short to reach the pedals, her sisters would take turns pumping while she played. Her parents recognized her musical talent and arranged lessons with Professor Mulhern in Alexandria. Her mother played the piano and her father sang Gaelic songs; their household was full of music. By 12 years old, Viola was accompanying many noted fiddlers of the time. Although shy at first, she became accustomed to it and enjoyed playing the piano.
In 1940 Viola married Walter MacCuaig and moved to Dalhousie, Quebec where she raised her family, Heather, Norma and Ian. The family home is now occupied by Ian and his family. She continued to play the piano and her home became a haven for musicians, locals and visitors – Bill Lamey, Buddy MacMaster, Angus Chisholm and Dan R. MacDonald, to name a few.
For thirty years she was best known for accompanying Little Jack MacDonald at the well known Dalhousie institution, Bob’s. While there, she played piano for many of the fiddlers who dropped by on a regular basis. In later years, Viola took up the fiddle and found the same joy in playing the popular Celtic music. She was a founding member of the Lochiel Strings and played every chance she could get. She hosted the practices at her home in Dalhousie and played at concerts, nursing homes and house parties.
Viola played until ill health prevented her and she was confined to the hospital. However, even then, she perked up when the fiddlers came to entertain at the hospital and if they played her favorite, Father John MacMillan of Barra, she asked for her fiddle.
Viola died on February 5, 1994; her funeral service was held at St. Andrew’s United Church, Dalhousie where she served as organist from 1955 to 1969. Before and during the service the Lochiel Strings played several Scottish airs and as a lasting tribute to Viola, Jean Duval composed and played a lament in her honour, Farewell Viola.
Viola playing “John MacMillan of Barra”
Viola and Duncan Picket McDonald, Nov. 1961