Full Steam Ahead

August 3, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

This coming weekend and the following weekend the two biggest Scottish Festivals and highland games are coming up. Sooner of the two, Glengarry Highland Games, held annually since 1948 in the village of Maxville, is the largest two-day – sometimes – in the world by measurement of the number of pipes and drums, the mass bands that fill the main field at the end of the games. One year, there were 1,745 (approximately) pipes and drums playing Amazing Grace and it was a sight and a sound to behold. The earth did tremble. Running over two days, Friday and Saturday, the crowds come to enjoy the festivities during the days and the Tattoo and Ceilidh on the Friday evening and come back for the glad round of the festival on the Saturday. 

Closer to home, the following weekend, August 11 to 13, the Fergus Scottish Festival, which likewise began its history in 1948, sees all the music, dancing and Heavy Events, which involve stocky and very strong men lifting heavy stones and chucking “cabers” into the air to a precisely established landing format. These and other heritage trials hail centuries back to similar fields in Scotland where the traditions of tests of strength were laid and the strong arms and backs have revered them ever since.

Pipe bands come from all over Ontario to compete as well and the fields and alleys of the festival are alive with the call of the pipes, that can last in your head for a week.

People come and they camp amid the trees of the small woodland and they take showers in the public facility. And they have a wonderful time. A community of campers gives the festival a settled feeling, as though we might all be there for longer than the weekend; a feeling that historically we have been living in rustic environments and living rather well, as well. Depending on conditions, there are usually camp fires adding to the homey aspect of the camp, circles of people later in the evenings with something pleasant to eat and drink, laughing and talking, their children well away from their usual lives to perhaps imagine other lives in some far off forest.

With the rushing forward that seems to be hauling our lives into the future of science fiction, a three day weekend of being steeped in history and an old way of life must be a time to heal from the burns we are suffering in the rush. For many people, the Fergus weekend recalls them to their own family’s history for this wide area has seen a great many folk coming from the British Isles, looking to find a patch of land to farm and raise their children in snow bound winters – not so hard for the Scots, to be sure. There are homes in Hockley and some of the rural areas here where the families are six to eight generations living there.

The Board of Directors and the organizers of the Fergus Scottish Festival have put together a fine line of musical entertainment, bands that play other instruments and do not march. With a strong connection to the books and series Outlander, every year stars from the show come from Scotland to the festival and there are chances to meet them. It was the Fergus Scottish Festival that first welcomed author Diana Gabaldon to launch her book at the festival in 1991, which heralded the fabulous success her stories have achieved.

The Clans of Scotland are represented and perhaps, many of you will learn something about your own lineage – maybe things that will surprise you. It is worth the conversation to discover.

Whiskey has its own domain naturally, tasting, history and stories for those who are already imbibers and others coming to learn why.

The alleys are lined with vendors, selling their quite varied wares and food – real fish and chips and much more. There are kilts and clothes; honey and crafts. And jewellery, of course. Lots of those bring a variety of choices. We are all on a high for being there, amid the music and the charm of this weekend, for Fergus is crowned as the biggest Scottish Festival in Canada

Patricia and I are among them with our sterling silver Celtic jewellery and Celtic art by Diana E. Skeates. We were invited by the organizers many years ago to bring our silver to the festival and we feel as though it is part of our home base to be there. The festival is generous with its sites, many of which are a standard 25 by 25 feet of space and it is fun to fill it with treasures and people who come to hear the stories and learn some of the legends and why Celtic knots are special.

Here in the arms of an old way to live and ancient traditions, our spirits can rise and our minds can take a break and if we have any sense, our telephones will not preoccupy us and our primary form of communication can be face to face.

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