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Updated 05/09/2013


Pipe Major J.K. Cairns
Archie Carins, MMM, CD

The retreat march Pipe Major J.K. Cairns was composed by Major Archie Cairns (left above), MMM, CD in Ottawa, Ontario, 1978, for his father (right above), who died in 1952, age 56.  John Knox Cairns (1896 - 1952) was PM of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada 1945-1949. 

Archie McNeil Cairns (1928 - ) was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. He began piping at age 9 tutored by his father. Archie served as PM in the Argylls from 1952-1954. In 1954 after 13 years with the Argylls, he enrolled in the Regular Force and was posted to Camp Petawawa where, as PM, he formed and trained the Pipes and Drums of 2nd Battalion The Canadian Guards, serving over 10 years. In December 1964 he transferred to the RCAF as PM of the Pipe Band at Station Rockcliffe, Ottawa, where he trained a prize-winning band.

Major Cairns is a world-renowned Pipe Major, judge, instructor, director and composer. He was a soloist at the Queen's Coronation Ball. In 1966 he won the North American championship. He was only the fourth person in the world to receive the diploma of piping and senior teacher's certificate from the Institute of Piping in Britain. He was the first North American to be appointed by the Piobaireachd Society in Scotland to its judge’s panel. He was the first Regular Force musician to receive the OMM and at the time of his retirement he had five clasps to his CD for a lifetime of service to his country. 

In 1968, Cairns retired from active solo competition, having won almost every major award in Eastern Canada and North Eastern USA. 

In 1972, Major Archie M. Cairns approached the Piobaireachd Society (PS) to authorize a Gold Medal contest in Canada. He was initially denied. Undeterred, Archie Cairns proposed a unique solution, that is, if the PS Senior Judge found the top performance lacking, the judge could withhold the medal. This revised proposal of an "earned medal" was championed by Captain John A. MacLellan (then Honourary Secretary of the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society) and approved by the PS. The City of Ottawa Highland Games in 1973 hosted the first "Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal (Canada)". To date, the medal has never been withheld.

He retired from the Regular Force in 1981 and enrolled in the Reserve Force. He was promoted to Major in 1983. Major Cairns dedicated almost 60 years of his life to piping, with his main tutors being his father, John Wilson and John MacLellan. Major Cairns is an accomplished piper whose sole profession has been that of a Piper, Pipe Major, International Adjudicator, Lecturer, Teacher, Piping Consultant/Advisor, etc. Many of his published pipe compositions have been recorded internationally. His most outstanding pupil is his son, John Knox Cairns, who succeeded him as CO of the Cadet School of Pipes & Drums in London, Ontario.