The Clansmen

2019, Inductee

The Clansmen were formed in 1973 under the direction of Sylvester MacDonald. This was one of very few Scottish dance bands in Glengarry at the time and they would change the way dance music would be played in the area for many years to come.

Sylvester was the first one who really started singing for dances and any dance band that started up in the years to follow would have vocals in their group as well. In the years before the Clansmen it was mainly instrumental groups that played for dances, primarily in smaller halls.

It wasn’t long before calls would come from larger centers like Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the USA looking for a talented Celtic dance band for their venues. Always dressed in tartans, the first song that the Clansmen would start off a dance with, was “Come in come in, we’ll do the best we can”. By the second song the dance floor was full. When it was a dance at The Bonnie Glen, where the Clansmen played countless times, they always filled the hall. People came from far and wide to dance to their music. Even if the people didn’t know who the dance was for or didn’t care… they came because The Clansmen were playing. They definitely had a following.

The Clansmen album cover

The popularity of the group was so great at the time that in the mid seventies and eighties there would be periods where they would perform every day for two weeks straight and sometimes twice a day if they were playing at a senior’s residence in the afternoon. They were also one of the forerunning groups to play at the Glengarry Highland Games at the Friday and Saturday night dances. Those dances were so popular and packed with people that the Games committee had to build a picket fence around the stage in the old Angus Grey Hall to keep the crowd from standing and sitting on the stage.

In 1975 they performed throughout Eastern Canada including Loretteville Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Bridgewater Nova Scotia and Glendale Cape Breton. When the group played for Robbie Burns or St. Andrew’s Balls they always started the night off with The Grand March. If it was for a St. Patrick’s dance they wore green and played mostly Irish music.

Sylvester and the Clansmen always recognized and respected the talented youth in the area and gave many of them a chance to get up on stage and perform with the band whether it be vocal, fiddle or bagpipes etc.

The popularity of the band was so great that it prompted them to do two recordings including The Clansmen in 1976 and At Your Request in 1982.

Members of the original Clansmen including Sylvester were; Rob Taylor, John (Jack) Job, Jackie Smith, Lyle MacMillan, and Rene Fleury. Not long after that, Sylvester hired two very talented ladies; his niece Thwyla McDonald (accordion and vocals) and Clara MacLeod (piano) who both became core members of the group. Other members that played over the years were: Dave McCormick, June (Aubin) Burke, Mike Johnston and Bryon Haley.

When Pipe Major J.T. MacKenzie took to stage to play some bagpipe selections with the band, Sylvester never missed a chance to sing along with the pipes, something that is quite commonly done in groups today. Some of the former members of the group went on to form or join groups like; The Brigadoons, Dornie Express, The Cobblers, McCormick & MacLeod, The Seanachies, Six Mile Cross and Antrim etc.

The Clansmen were one of the original, innovative and core singing Celtic dance bands in Glengarry of our time. They played for the crowd…, Scottish, Irish and a little Country ‘whatever would make them dance’. Their longevity was such that they played not only for weddings but some of the same couples 25th anniversaries as well. As time went on and they resigned from dances, they still played at seniors’ residences and concerts up until Sylvester’s death in February 2008.

Inducted in 2019

Category:   Bands, Performers