It all started when a young Colin Barrett was given a choice between the bagpipes and drums.
In 1971, he was attending St. Thomas More school in Burnaby, which had an army cadet corp that he was interested in joining — and they had a band.
When asked for his preference, piper or drummer, Barrett didn’t hesitate.
“I said, ‘piper, of course’,” Barrett recalled.
Many years later, the Langley City resident still isn’t sure where the impulse came from.
He was not especially musical, he insists.
“The only way I could carry a tune before, was holding a radio,” he laughed.
At the time, he suspected there might be a bit of Scotland in his family tree, but that was not the case, with him turning out to have a genealogy that hearkens back to Ireland.
“It takes an Irishman to play the pipes,” Barrett chuckled.
“If someone had told me all the people I would meet [as a result of piping], back in 1971, I wouldn’t have believed them,” he said.
Playing the bagpipes turned out to be a passport to events and audiences across the country and around the globe for Barrett, including piping in the lieutenant governor up the gangway to the main plaza at Expo 86 for B.C. Day.
“I’ve played for several lieutenant governors,” he noted.
He piped in then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien to the historic fort during a visit, having to halt several times because the Chretien kept breaking away to shake hands with the crowd.
“I kept losing the prime minister and having to go back for him,” he recalled.
At the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, he ended up chatting with astronaut Buzz Aldrin for a few minutes at a conference, “which was a treat.”
Piping at another conference also allowed Barrett to meet Tommy Douglas.
“I’m apolitical. I don’t hold with any party, but he [Douglas] very much impressed me.”
As a member of the Delta Police Pipe Band, one of Barrett’s most memorable outings involved Sir Paul McCartney, performing “Mull of Kintyre,” the former Beatle’s tribute to his Scottish home, on three different stages during a Vancouver concert series.
Barrett has also played in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Hawaii.
He’s played his pipes on an episode of the 1994 television series “Hawkeye,” based on the novels written by James Fenimore Cooper and starring Lee Horsley and Lynda Carter.
And there was the time when he was part of the band that played for the Queen and Prince Philip at the Windsor Castle Royal Tattoo.
“Piping has taken me to a lot of places,” Barrett observed.
Most recently, he performed for residents at the Kinsmen Lodge in Surrey, for this Robbie Burns Day.
“I’ve been playing for them for 38 years.”
Regulars at Brigade Days – the annual celebration of the fur trade at historic Fort Langley – know Barrett by his character’s name, “Piper Fraser,” who pipes fellow historic re-enactors to the morning flag raising at the fort, and the afternoon trip to the river for the arrival of the fur brigades.
READ ALSO: VIDEO: B.C. Days sees re-enactors reunite at historic Fort Langley
When someone suggested he become a re-enactor back in 1984 , Barrett was intrigued.
“I thought, that’s kind of unique. I like history. I’d be happy to do that.”
His historic counterpart, Colin Fraser, was the personal piper to the-then Hudson’s Bay Company governor.
Barrett, 64, has finally managed to retire from his profession as a building inspector, but plans to continue piping.
“I retired twice,” he said, once after 22 years with the Township of Langley, and a shorter term with the City.
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