Canadian store gives piper his marching orders

Ogilvys department store has decided to end daily piping performances by Montreal piper Jeff McCarthy.
Ogilvys department store has decided to end daily piping performances by Montreal piper Jeff McCarthy.
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A daily bagpipe performance in a prominent Canadian department store begun 72 years ago in memory of its Scottish founder has been axed by the business’s new owner.

Ogilvy’s department store, on Montreal’s St Catherine Street, has featured a daily piping performance since 1945, when businessman Aird Nesbitt launched a series of Scottish traditions including tartan shopping bags and store packaging to mark the store’s founder, James Angus Ogilvy, who founded the business after emigrating to Canada from Kirriemuir in the 1860s.

Last week the performance, which saw the piper serenade customers from the fifth floor to street level for about 20 minutes at noon every day, took place for the final time.

Piper Jeff McCarthy, who has performed at the shop since 1992, said it was a “sad and memorable day”.

He said: “There is nothing more genuine than a piper pouring his heart and soul into his music.

“Brigadier- General Aird Nesbitt knew it was a sound that comes and grabs you, a sound that lifts hearts and spirits. A sound that inspires people to greater things. And a sound that was deliciously and irrevocably Scottish.”

Normand Ciarlo, divisional vice-president of Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy, which is now owned by the Selfridges Group, said: “After careful consideration, the decision was made to discontinue lunchtime concerts by the Ogilvy piper.

“We would like to thank all Ogilvy pipers, past and present, for their contribution to the historical character of the store.

“As we work to bring Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy together, we will continue to establish new traditions and events that are inspired by both brands and honour Montreal’s rich fashion heritage.”

Nesbitt, who took control of the store after his father, Arthur Nesbitt, acquired it from the Ogilvy family in 1927, used the building for a number of musical activities, opening Tudor Hall, a 300-seat oak-panelled music hall featuring an elaborate pipe organ, which hosted public concerts and shows.

Originally, the Ogilvy’s bagpiper closed the store at the end of the day, but the performance was curtailed to lunchtime only in 1974.

An online petition launched last week to reinstate the bagpipe tradition at Ogilvy’s has already attracted more than 1,270 supporters. One signatory said the decision to cut the piper was “an affront to the Scottish community of Montreal”.

Customers took to social media to express their disappointment at the decision.

Sandra Geraghty wrote: “This was a tradition I remember well from when I was a child. My mother would make us line up against the wall till the pipers had gone. Truly sad my grandkids will never know of this.”

Nancy Brown Jette added: “I used to work on the fifth floor at Ogilvy’s in the early 80s. The piper would ‘tune up’ daily around the corner from my department, and would begin the descent through the store. There was a sense of reverence as he played.

“It was a lovely tradition and I am truly saddened to hear of its end.”

The Nesbitt family sold the business in 1981 and it has since gone through a number of owners, including Standard Life’s Canadian arm, before being bought by the Selfridges Group six 
years ago.