Farewell, Drum Major Peet

When I got to work this morning, I had a voice mail from a friend of mine.  He said “Just thought you should know that today is Drum Major Peet’s last ceremony – you might want to check it out”.

Drum Major CWO Tom Peet is probably the most photographed man in Ottawa.  For nearly three decades, he’s led the Band of the Ceremonial Guard up Elgin Street to Parliament Hill for the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony. With his elaborate uniform, shiny mace, and perfect military deportment, he is a compelling figure.

He was my Drum Major back in 1993, and like all of us in the Guard, I held him in the highest regard.  There is just something about him that demands respect.  We all admired his unwavering professionalism, quiet leadership, and genuine love for the band.

I wandered over to Elgin Street around 10:30 and walked back to the drill hall beside the band.  I imagined being in his shoes (boots), making the final turn on a march he has done hundreds and hundreds of times over the years.  It’s not often that one gets to witness the end of an era, and it felt slightly funny that the moment was shared by only a few people along the route who knew this was his final day.

At the end of the march back, the band strayed from the usual routine and played “Auld Lang Syne”.  As the pipes joined in for the final verse, it became very moving.  Drum Major Peet turned to face the band and saluted.  I saw his lower lip quiver, and I realized that no matter how strong and stoic you are, it’s incredibly difficult to say goodbye to something you’ve loved for so long.

CBC’s Ottawa Morning did a nice interview with Drum Major Peet that you can listen to here.

One last photo before boarding the buses.

6 thoughts on “Farewell, Drum Major Peet

  1. Doyen of Drum Majors retires after 29 years with the Ceremonial Guard
    By Captain Fraser Clark

    Tom Peet’s name resounds in the world of military music like Tiger Woods’ in the PGA. After 35 years of loyal and dedicated service to the Canadian Forces – 27 of those as the drum major of the world famous Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill – Canada’s most famous drum major, Chief Warrant Officer Peet, marched his last parade with the Canadian Guards today.

    Tom, as his friends call him or more notably ‘the Drum Major’ as most musicians in the Canadian Forces know him, has represented many things to many people over the years. But those who worked with Drum Major Peet could never say that he wasn’t fully dedicated to his job, the military musicians he led and above all, to the principles of leadership and integrity that all great senior non-commissioned officers exhibit on and off duty.

    Chief Warrant Officer Peet arrived in Ottawa from Nova Scotia in the summer of 1981 as a platoon sergeant with the Canadian Grenadier Guards. Returning to Halifax following the public duties season to complete a degree in physical education from Dalhousie University, Peet returned to Ottawa the following summer resuming his post as a platoon sergeant, instructing soldiers how to properly wear their bearskin caps and how to march with the dash and élan that Foot Guards are known the world over. After returning to civilian life as a supply teacher in the National Capital Region, Peet was offered a full-time service contract. His job was to take over as the drum major of an undisciplined and rowdy group of musicians who were recently stood-up as the Band of the Ceremonial Guard and whose job it was to provide the music to a regal ceremony steeped in military tradition dating back to the 16th century. Arguably, this was where Peet would make his greatest impact in the Canadian Forces. Over the next 27 years, he would train, mentor and lead thousands of young Canadian musicians who passed through the ranks of Canada’s best-known and best-drilled military band. The undisciplined rabble and union-shop mentality of these military musicians gave way to the Code of Service Discipline and the Chain of Command, all at the behest of Drum Major Peet. The band became the best in Canada as a result of the drum major’s ranting, rattling, shouting, screeching and shrieking on the parade square. And despite many of the headaches and the stresses of leadership, the results paid off in dividends. The band’s drill and musicianship became world renowned. Tours to Colorado, Washington D.C., Norway and annual appearances in Nova Scotia soon followed, in addition to a Juno-nominated compact disc recording.

    “I won the lottery” says the seasoned drum major, now 53 years old. “It wasn’t easy in the early days; my initial ignorance and contempt about music and musicians gave way to great admiration and respect to a group of very talented and dedicated people. I didn’t see it back then but I quickly recognized that these student-musicians had something special and I wanted to give them everything I had.” allows Peet.

    One of only a handful of Canadians to graduate from the most gruelling drill and ceremonial course with the British Guards Division, Drum Major Peet worked very closely in the off-season with the Coldstream Guards and the Grenadier Guards, drinking from the fountain of tradition and pouring that knowledge back to this unique Canadian unit.

    In the early 1990s, he was recruited to assist in the production of the Nova Scotia Tattoo. After 20 years in the business, the tattoo in Halifax is hailed as one of the top ten “must see” shows in North America and is now the largest annual indoor show in the world. Drum Major Peet is now the Assistant Producer/Director of the annual spectacular that takes place at the Halifax Metro Centre every July.

    Given his background in ceremonial, he became one of the few experts in producing and directing such large scale military parades as the Trooping of the Colours and massed band spectaculars such as Fortissimo – the annual Canadian Forces Massed Bands Retreat Ceremony on the lawns of Parliament Hill which last year set a record breaking crowd attendance after Peet’s 13 year run as the show’s director.

    Looking back retrospectively, the drum major admits “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve had the best job in the world and I felt a bit of melancholy on the final march off from Parliament Hill today.”

    In what was the most fitting tribute paid to Drum Major Peet, the Changing of the Guard ceremony halted in front of its spiritual home at the 131 year-old Cartier Square Drill Hall. As the red-clad soldiers stood to attention in the searing heat of an Ontario summer, the musicians performed the plaintive Scottish air Auld Lang Syne. The Drum Major turned to face the musicians and snapped his final salute with tears streaming down his cheeks – surely with the memories of the men and women of his beloved regiment both past and present.

    Such was Peet’s influence on the Canadian and international military music scene that several well-known personalities travelled to Ottawa to wish him farewell. On hand to witness the drum major’s retirement and looking on with great admiration was Canadian music icon Mr Howard Cable as well as Dr Gillian Mackay, Dean of the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. Also looking on from the United Kingdom was Mr Craig Roberts, one of the leading conductors of the British Brass Band movement and from Norfolk, Virginia the most senior musician in the United States Marine Corps Band Programme, Master Gunnery Sergeant Matt Farquhar.

    Such was Drum Major Peet’s impact on the drill, dress and musical standards of the Band of the Ceremonial Guard that Governor General Romeo Leblanc awarded him the Order of Military Merit in 1998.

    Peet leaves his post to Master Warrant Officer David Rennie, a former Drum Major of the Scots Guards and currently the Drill Sergeant Major of the Ceremonial Guard.

    Peet now trades-in his bearskin cap and drill boots to take up his new role in Windsor, Nova Scotia, as Commandant of Cadets at King’s-Edgehill School, Canada’s oldest Private School.

  2. The thing that got me about Drum Major Peet was, even thought he played no instruments, he had a great ear and was incredibly knowledgable about music. Wish I could have seen his last parade.

    C. Lalonde
    CG Band ’87, 88, ’04

  3. Drum Major,
    I did not know you were retiring from the CF. Sorry to see you go. Like me, you have been around a long time. I only had the opportunity to work with you on one occasion. Many years ago we were sent to Ottawa to take part in the Service of Remembrance at the Civic Centre. After reading Fraser’s stirring tribute there is not a lot more that can be added.
    Best of luck in your retirement.
    Mike Morello
    Drum Major, Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada

  4. Today, I’m thinking of CWO/Drum Major Tom Peet. He’s one of the very few people I have to thank from the bottom of my heart for the happy life I lead today. In 2005, when I was 44 years old, he auditioned me for the CG. In accepting me with open arms and believing in my capacity of joining the Ranks, I later on ended up in the Regular Force playing music and I’ve been happy ever since. Often, I think of him and say: Thanks, Sir! I hope you get to be as happy in your retirement and I will always have extremely fond memories of the time spent under your command. Sgt Diane Gingras

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