A neighbourhood in Fergus, Ont., is rallying behind the local piper following noise complaints about his regular outdoor bagpipe performances and practice sessions. Regional bylaw officials, however, say he isn’t breaking any rules.
The southern Ontario town of Fergus isn’t shy about its Scottish heritage.
It’s well known for its annual cultural festival and Highland Games, its established pipe bands, Scottish flags lining its streets — and now, regular outdoor shows from avid piper Peter Hummel.
Famously known as Peter Piper, of course, Hummel plays several evenings a week as a tribute to front-line workers.
“The purpose for me was to gather support for them,” Hummel told CBC News.
The piper started this tradition at the beginning of the pandemic, and has since built a sense of community in his neighbourhood during a period of isolation. His shows have far reach as they are also live streamed.
“We’ve kind of become our own little family in this place,” he said.
The intent was to spread joy, but some neighbours would rather not hear the pipes ring out.
Some even filed formal noise complaints, which eventually spiralled into a neighbourhood feud of sorts.
Over the summer, Hummel said he received four visits from Ontario Provincial Police officers and a visit from Centre Wellington bylaw informing him of the complaints.
Bylaw officials confirmed to CBC News that Hummel was told he was not breaking any rules and the visit was more of an educational interaction.
“He’s completely within his right to do it,” said Kirk McElwain, Ward 2 councillor for Centre Wellington. “You’re not allowed to make loud, amplified music after 11 p.m. You’re not allowed to [make any] other noises that might impact your neighbours after 9 p.m. But at 7 p.m. there is no real bylaw.”
Hummel plays at 7: 30 p.m. ET.
The piper said he used to hear the odd verbal remark from a neighbour while practising throughout the years, but it worsened during the pandemic.
“Lots of vulgarity, lots of swearing, air horns going off, quasi threats about where the bagpipes could go,” he said.
Hummel said he’s vowed to keep playing until the pandemic ends, whenever that is.
So, the shows must go on — but not without responding to those complaints.
With the help of a friend, Hummel had lawn signs made that read in bolded lettering: “PIPING ISN’T A CRIME #SUPPORTYOURLOCALPIPER”.
“The signs were supposed to be kind of … in jest really. Everyone knows piping isn’t a crime,” he said. “Like no musician, no piper, no drummer should be afraid to go into their backyard to practise. And there’s a lot of them in this town.”
To his surprise, Hummel sold more than 85 signs and donated all the proceeds to a local charity that helps rural women in crisis.
“So it was kind of like a win-win,” he said.
‘I don’t like bagpipes’
Rob Splinter said he chuckled when he saw those signs around his neighbourhood. He’s one of two people who told CBC News they filed formal noise complaints.
“Piping is not a crime, but I think disturbing your neighbours maybe isn’t a crime but it should be dealt with,” Splinter said.
He said he feels strongly about both piping and his downtime.
“I don’t like bagpipes. It’s a very annoying noise and that’s just me. I don’t like it,” he said, noting the main issue is when Hummel practises in his backyard, which is close to his.
“I can’t watch TV, I have to close the windows … and my mom lives with me too, and she doesn’t like the bagpipes either. Nothing against bagpipes if you want to play them, but respect your neighbours.”
Another neighbour who did not want to be interviewed on camera said the noise was disruptive. The neighbour, who is an essential worker, said they did not appreciate the shows.
Splinter admitted he expressed his frustration in unique ways.
“Yeah, I’ve sworn at him a few times, and that’s just out of frustration because he wouldn’t quit. I’m sorry for doing that, but I mean if he wants to be ignorant, I’ll be ignorant back.
“If he started playing in his backyard, I would. This seems kind of weird, but I would put my speaker in the window and I’d play my music, and turn it up loud so I would drown him out,” he admitted.
Splinter said he hasn’t had a reason to complain recently since Hummel has toned down the backyard practice sessions.
Positive community reaction
Hummel said he hopes some sort of resolution has been reached, for now at least.
Despite the complaints, he said, his shows have accomplished what they set out to do: Support front-line workers and bring the community together.
“It’s a small community with a massive heart, and people care.”
Neighbours and supporters who lined the street to hear Hummel play on Tuesday say the shows resonated with them.
“I loved it, loved it,” said Rosemary Bowles.
“None of us knew each other before this, so since Pete’s been playing it’s brought us together and we’re one big family now,” said Mary Wilson.
“I appreciate this because I live in a group home and it’s just so nice that somebody has the heart to do that,” added Aimee Olivier.
“It was very, very good. Glad I came out to enjoy it,” said Tom Huxley.
As for Hummel, he plans to carry on the evening shows until he no longer has to, he says.
WATCH | The National’s feature about the Fergus bagpiper on Monday, Oct. 11, at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC-TV station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.