100 nights later, Pink Pied Piper plays on

After 100 days playing his heart out for health-care workers, North Vancouver’s Pink Pied Piper is almost ready for a rest.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when anxiety levels were high, Central Lonsdale resident Frank Wimberley donned his clan tartan, accented with a pink flourish, grabbed his bagpipes and joined the 7 p.m. nightly cheer for front-line workers.

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It started out with just Wimberley, who is also known as the Pink Pied Piper, and his wife and son. Gradually, neighbours began streaming out to 15th Street and Mahon Avenue for the nightly “parade” – especially kids.

“It's been quite an amazing little journey,” he said. “It caught on and so we were out every evening and through May and into June.”

Although there are philistines who don’t appreciate the sound of bagpipes, Wimberley said he’s been struck by the warm praise that’s come from the nightly morale booster in dark times.

“There's been a lot of folks are saying, ‘This is fantastic. This is wonderful. You've really done wonders for the community and for the health workers,’” he said.

Other members of the Docs and Socks pipe band he belongs to have had similar experiences outside their homes, Wimberley said.

Though he played rain or shine, there is a small asterisk on the 100. In mid-May, Wimberley wound up face to face with the health-care workers he’s played in praise of. He was in pain one evening but waited until after the parade before going to the hospital, where he was prepped for emergency gallbladder surgery.

While he was convalescing, his family filled in, playing pipe music through a speaker for the gathered neighbours. When Wimberley returned home, there was a stack of Get Well cards waiting for him, mostly from kids in the neighbourhood.

At the end of May, a neighbour snapped photos of all the folks who had been turning out for the nighty parades, compiled them into a book and got everyone to sign a birthday greeting for Wimberley.

“Which was fantastic because when you play the pipes - it's great, you're entertaining everyone - but you never get to meet anyone,” he said.

Since March, British Columbians have by and large done their part to “flatten the curve.”

New COVID-19 infections are averaging between 10 and 20 per day and the ICUs never ran out of ventilators as was feared in the worst case scenario. And, as of the last update from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, only 17 people in B.C. are in hospital with the virus.

With thing somewhat returning to normal, Wimberley has decided to scale things back. At first he thought Canada Day might be a good time for one final blowout performance. That would be his 99th night on the job – another number that holds a special place in the hearts of Canadians. But he thought to make it an even 100 on July 2.

Even now, though, Wimberley says he’ll keep the parades up on Friday and Saturday nights. He isn’t quite ready to walk away from what he’s started because he doesn’t want to seeing his neighbours stop coming together while staying six feet apart.

“They just got to come out in the evenings and see each other, and meet and greet each other, and get to know people from three houses away or four houses away,” he said. “It started out and still is the 7 p.m. tribute to the health workers. But somewhere along the way, we built a little community.”

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