He was born into a Gaelic-speaking home in Timmins, Ontario to John Duncan MacMaster and Sarah Agnes MacDonald MacMaster. The family was originally from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and in 1928 they returned to Cape Breton to settle in the town of Judique.
At an early age, Buddy began to play the fiddle. At age 12, he had his first public performance at an amateur hour in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, and at age 14 he played his first professional gig at a square dance in the nearby town of Troy. He began a career as a station agent and telegrapher for the Canadian National Railway in 1943, though he continued to play nights at square dances across Nova Scotia.
Buddy made his first radio broadcast from the town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 1948. In the 1970s he played regularly on Canadian television on CBC Television’s Ceilidh show. After his retirement from the railroad in 1988, he continued to work as a professional musician, gaining an international reputation. He was one of the first Cape Breton fiddlers to be asked to teach in Scotland.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish in 1995, and in 2000 he was awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian culture. He also received the Order of Nova Scotia in 2003 for outstanding achievement benefiting the province and its residents. In October 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cape Breton University in a special ceremony held in Judique.