Chemainus’ Tony Fayant is pleased to have done his part to support health care workers and entertain a few members of the public, socially distanced, along the way. (Photo by Pete Cavanaugh)

One piper piping during the pandemic

Tribute to health care workers reaches the 100th performance

The sound of the bagpipes and ringing bells have filled the air in downtown Chemainus at 7 p.m. regularly since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in March.

As the Chemainus United Church bells chime every night, Chemainus’ Tony Fayant, 56, starts his regular chorus on the bagpipes at nearby Waterwheel Park. Fayant is coming up to his 100th public performance in tribute to health care workers on Saturday, July 11.

It all started when the pandemic shutdown affected Fayant’s job as director of food and beverage at Casino Nanaimo. His last day of work was March 17 and the Cowichan Pipes and Drums member began the bagpipe salutes right away the next day.

“Just after I was out of work, people were banging pots and pans in our neighbourhood supporting the front line workers,” Fayant said. “The way I make noise is I play the pipes. I went out on my deck and played my pipes.”

The next night he went to Kin Park in Chemainus to play but “it was really windy and I almost lost my hat in the ocean,” he said.

That prompted another move to downtown Chemainus where he’s been every since.

“The first couple of nights there was a couple of people walking by with dogs and more waved from a distance,” Fayant said.

“Then it started to become part of my routine. I had somewhere I needed to be every day.”

The salute to the workers was the most prominent reason for continuing to play, but also proved to be good medicine to bridge his employment gap.

“It’s given me a focus,” Fayant conceded. “You can only mow your lawn so many times.”

As his regular outings became known, he saw some familiar faces and plenty of different ones taking in the sight and sounds. Woman-about-town Ruth Schiller has been one of the regulars to appreciate what Fayant’s been doing.

A couple of ladies walking Scotty dogs made a point of coming by with the Scottish connection to the bagpipes.

“It’s been pretty nice,” Fayant said of the experience.

At one point, he did 74 days in a row. The Cowichan Pipes and Drums started regular outdoor practices at a farm in Duncan on Thursday nights at 7 so Fayant has missed the last five Thursdays to be there.

As he approaches the 100th time, the routine is the same. The church bells, checked over closely last Thursday by Jamie Stephen by climbing up into the bell tower since they haven’t been given such a workout in a long time, start to ring out and then Fayant begins playing.

Fayant actually started in a bagpipe club during his days at Chemainus Secondary School. One Remembrance Day in the school gymnasium was his first public appearance.

He spent about 14 years in Alberta before returning to Chemainus seven years ago.

“I stopped playing for about 30 years,” he pointed out. “It was a struggle getting back into it, for sure.”

But Fayant’s glad he did and the tutoring of the Cowichan Pipes and Drums has been amazing – plus, it’s nice for him to be one of the youngest members of the group.

The group performed on Canada Day with a walkabout in Chemainus.

Fayant had company from Joel Bailey for one night, as they also paid tribute to those Canadians who died in the military helicopter crash off the coast of Greece in June. Otherwise, he’s been on his own.

After the 100th tribute, Fayant will break the cycle but won’t necessarily be done with it.

“I might play on my deck once in a while,” he said. “I think it’s come full circle. I don’t want to be the cause of anyone gathering with COVID.

“This is an amazing town. It was a great place to grow up and a great place to come back to.”

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Tony Fayant has faithfully played his bagpipes most evenings at Waterwheel Park since just after COVID-19 restrictions went into effect. (Photo by Pete Cavanaugh)

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