GLENGARRY HIGHLAND GAMES
As the Glengarry Highland Games celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, we are happy to share this list of facts that were gleaned from past issues of The Glengarry News. Please indulge yourselves as we go for a trip down Memory Lane...
1. The Glengarry Pipe Band won the Grade 2 Pipe Band North American Champions at the Highland Games in 1996. It was the first time ever that the band won that title.
2. In 2006, the late Ken McRae, who penned Glengarry’s unofficial anthem, Glengarry My Home, unveiled a brand new verse for his iconic song. This new verse specifically mentioned the Games.
3. The Glengarry Highland Games is often lauded as one of the best Highland Games in North America, so it’s not surprising that it attracts athletes from around the continent. In 1986, for example, Californian Keith Tice won seven of the eight events en route to winning the Canadian Scottish Heavyweight Championships.
4. There is virtually no rivalry (and absolutely no nastiness) among the Highland Games competitors. The athletes all know they are competing with themselves and are always very supportive when someone gets a new personal best.
5. It seems that new records are always being set at the Highland Games. In 1971, the Games set a new record by attracting 41 pipe bands. Exactly one decade later, it set a new record with 44 bands, 43 of which competed. One of those bands was the Vancouver Ladies Band, which won the Grade 2 category. By contrast, in the mid 1940s, the Games were accustomed to getting about a dozen bands.
6. Unsurprisingly, after 70 years, bad weather has plagued the Highland Games on occasion. In 1974, for example, a massive rainstorm made it impossible for the massed bands to carry out their opening performance. It wasn’t until the Games’ seventh year, in 1954, when the weather took its toll, prompting many people to leave early. Activities had to be moved into the nearby Jubilee Rink, which soon became unbearably hot. (The front page headline from that year: Highland Games Survived First Trial By Rain.) In 1983, it would rain so hard that it caused a two-hour blackout, which put an end to the Friday night entertainment.
7. In 1952, the National Film Board of Canada announced that it was going to record the Glengarry Highland Games. Later, the footage was shown in movie theatres across the nation.
8. Former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King used the occasion of the first Glengarry Highland Games, held in 1948, to make his final speech as leader of the governing Liberal Party. He resigned as leader about a week later. Also in attendance was John Bracken, former Manitoba Premier, who was then leader of the country’s Progressive Conservative Party.
9. Although the first Highland Games attracted a then record amount of more than 20,000 people, the second edition of the Games, held the following year, was decidedly less popular. About 12,000 people attended and only half of the 12 scheduled pipe bands showed up. The good news was that the smaller crowd allowed for better viewing.
10. Ontario Premier Leslie Frost agreed to officially open the third annual Glengarry Highland Games in 1950. Curiously, The Glengarry News did not feature the premier’s photograph on the front page of its pre-Games issue. Rather, the picture was of Margaret Farlinger, a Martintown resident and Williamstown High School student who had been crowned Queen of the Games.
11. A former Miss Canada once attended the Games in her official capacity. Cornwall resident Barbara Joan Markham was at the Games in 1954.
12. Alexandria resident Lloyd Kennedy was, apparently, virtually unbeatable at the caber toss. In 1955, The Glengarry News called him the “perennial champion,” although that year he was almost beaten by a newcomer competitor from Nova Scotia.
13. Although the violin is an integral part of the Highland Games today, that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until 1956, the ninth year of the Games, that the fiddle was introduced in an official capacity. A gentleman named Father McPhail played onstage and was accompanied by several other accomplished area bowmen.
14. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was scheduled to open the 10th Games in 1957. Unfortunately, he arrived late, causing the opening ceremonies to be delayed. At the Games, he was presented with 10 pounds of cheddar cheese, which was intended to be a subtle reminder that Canada’s agricultural sector grows more than wheat. In 1975, he would open them again, making him the first person to serve as guest of honour twice.
15. Highland dancing was always a big part of the Games but it really took off in 1959 with the addition of the mass Highland fling. “The dancing classes were never so full,” trumpeted The Glengarry News, which added that there were 117 dancers that year.
16. In 1960, Canada Council Award recipient and Ottawa resident Sally Hayden sang popular Scottish songs at the Games. It was the first time such an event ever happened there.
17. The Glengarry Highland Games has its own tartan and it is proudly worn by the Glengarry Pipe Band. The tar- tan is distinctive with its bold shades of red and blue. It was completed in the spring of 2000 as a special millennium project.
18. In 1961, the show was stolen by Dame Flora, Chief of Clan MacLeod, who was visiting from the Isle of Skye to help Glengarry Clan MacLeod celebrate its 25th anniversary. Dame Flora refused an invitation to leave early and, despite the pitiless stifling sun, stayed on into the evening for the second performance of the massed bands, which, that year, had a then record number of 18 participants.
19. In 1962, the Games reached another record with 25,000 people attending. It was the 15th anniversary of the Glengarry Highland Games and another record was set with 22 groups participating in the massed bands.
20. In 1963, Lester B. Pearson became the third Canadian Prime Minister to open the Highland Games. Unlike Mr. Diefenbaker, who was late, Mr. Pearson used a helicopter to ensure he arrived at the fairgrounds on time. The prime minister’s presence must have been an added attraction as that year, the Games broke another attendance record as nearly 30,000 flocked to Maxville.
21. In his opening speech to the crowd, Mr. Pearson only touched on politics. After noting that the budget had been a tough one to flesh out, he made the crowd laugh by announcing that it had removed the duty on chanters (practice instruments for fledgling pipers).
22. Glengarry’s own Connie Kippen-Blaney was a force to be reckoned with for many years of the Glengarry Highland Games. Back in the days when the Games held competition for female pipe bands, Ms. Kippen-Blaney, who served as pipe major for the Glengarry Girls Band, was known for leading her girls to first place finishes.
23. In 1965, the Games introduced a drum-major’s competition. The Glengarry Highlanders’ duty band played while the five competitors went through their paces. The inaugural winner was Norman Stewart MacKenzie of Toronto.
24. Although the Glengarry Highland Games is steeped in Scottish tradition, curiously, it took 19 years before a Scottish band made an appearance there. In 1966, the Knightswood Community Juvenile Pipe Band from Glasgow. Member John Williams even won that year’s drum major contest.
25. Also in 1966, Tommy Douglas – also known as “The Greatest Canadian” and founder of Canada’s universal healthcare program – officially opened the Games. Mr. Douglas, who was born in Scotland, was pleased to have the Knightswood band in attendance.
26. For Canada’s centennial and for the Games 20th anniversary in 1967, the Games finally broke the 30-band mark. 28 of the bands present played in the opening concert. It was further noted that eight of the 30 bands came from the United States. The following year, the Games would attract an unprecedented 38 pipe bands. It wouldn’t crack the 40-band barrier until 1971.
27. In 1968, Robert Stanfield, former Nova Scotia Premier and then leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party officially opened the Games. No word if anyone tossed him a football during his time in Maxville.
28. And how’s this for a “times they are a-changing” type of entry? In 1969, the Games were officially opened by David Macdonald Stewart, president of Macdonald Tobacco Inc. It’s hard to imagine such a figure being asked to preside over anything as luminous as the Highland Games nowadays. Also that year, the Glengarry Pipe Band had a diminished presence at the Games as it had just embarked on a three-week tour of Scotland.
29. In 1970, for the first time since its inception, The Glengarry Highland Games was not featured in the coveted front page above-the-fold spot of The Glengarry News. There were two reasons for this. The first is that the paper’s annual staff vacation (which has since been repealed) took place immediately after the Games, meaning there was no paper for the week that immediately preceeded them. More importantly, however, was the devastating news of the fire that destroyed the interior of St. Raphael’s church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Ontario. The horrible news displaced the Games, which was old news by then, to belowthe-fold status.
30. At the 23rd Highland Games in 1970, Woodland Hills, California resident Sharon Farrar won the over-16 dancing honours. Her sevenyear-old son, Harry, danced in the junior class. They are believed to be the first motherson dancing combination in Games history.
31. For the Games 25th anniversary in 1972, Williamstown native Harold MacDonald won the caber tossing competition for the sixth time. Evidently, Mr. MacDonald was a perennial winner when he lived in the area but had to stop competing after he moved to Vancouver. In 1972, he was vacationing in the area and decided to enter the contest to see if he still had the magic touch.
32. In 1973, the Games celebrated the first year of its next quarter century by smashing all previous attendance records. Nearly 30,000 people attended, though it was difficult to say if the presence of Montreal Canadiens star Jean Beliveau, who opened the Games, had anything to do with the high numbers. As The News said: “He may have attracted a large number of FrenchCanadians… but they have no way of knowing. All those thousands were Scots for a day no matter the colour of their skin or the language they spoke. ”
33. The St. Catharine’s-based Clan MacFarland Pipe Band captured the Gardiner Trophy – emblematic of the North American Pipe Band Championships – four years in a row in the early 1970s. They were eventually bested by the Guelph Pipe Band in 1976. In 1977, the Clan MacFarlane would win again.
34. Landmark pipe band attendance records were set in 1982 and 1983. In 1982, 48 bands attended the Games. One year later, the Games broke the half-century mark when it attracted 52 bands. In 1987, it would reach the 54 plateau. It wouldn’t be until the turn of the century, the year 2000, when 70 bands participated in the massed bands.
35. In 1982, Manhattan Beach, California resident Janine Hynd won the 12 and under McDougall Trophy for Highland dancing. Her mother, Catherine, won that same trophy for dancing at the Games 35 years earlier.
36. In 1985, Cape Breton native Flora MacDonald opened the Games. At the time she was the federal Employment and Immigration Minister. A proud Scot, she told an appreciative crowd of about 20,000 about her great love for Scottish culture. Although her itinerary had her leaving at 3, she stayed for the entire Saturday, dancing at various events and signing autographs.
37. A Scottish athlete made waves at the 40th Highland Games in 1987 when he shattered long-standing Canadian, North American and world records in the sheaf toss. Alistair Gunn cleared a height of 27 feet and 4.5 inches, breaking the Canadian record set by Dave Herrington just four years earlier. Sadly, Mr. Gunn’s euphoria was spoiled when a thief stole an equipment bag from the trunk of a car. The bag contained athletic equipment valued at about $500. In 1991, Alma, Ontario resident Warren Trask would break that record by tossing the sheaf 30 feet. In 1993, he would break his record again, 36 feet and six inches.
38. In 1988, a steam excursion train from Ottawa’s National Museum of Science and Technology brought people into Maxville so they could see the Games. The train had been retired in 1985 until the Bytown Railway Society resurrected it.
39. Also in 1988, Glengarry’s own Glengarry Pipe Band placed first in the Grade 4 class for the third year in a row.
40. In 1990, London’s Harry MacDonald, at age 21, became the youngest ever Canadian champion when he won the heavyweight event at the Highland Games.
41. By 1991, Games officials noticed an increased number of American visitors. They said that’s likely due to increased promotional efforts in Vermont and upstate New York.
42. Television news personalities Max Keeping and Lloyd Robertson have both presided over the Glengarry Highland Games’ opening ceremonies.
43. Dominionville Highland dancer Heather MacLeod scored a coup at the 1993 Games when she placed in the top five in four dance categories in the 16 and over class.
44. In 1994, the Friday night Tattoo featured the likes of singer John McDermott and violinist Natalie MacMaster, prompting past Games president Murray MacQueen to call it the best grandstand show in Games’ history.
45. Also in 1994, the Clan Building made its debut at the Games. It helped bring all the different clan representatives under one roof.
46. In 1995, London, Ontario’s Harry MacDonald won the heavyweight championships for the third year in a row. He set a new Canadian record in the 28-lb weight for distance event and, arguably, became the most successful athlete since the days of Keith Tice.
47. The Glengarry Pipe Band was named North American champions in the Grade 2 category at the 1996 Highland Games. It was the first time the band ever won such a distinction.
48. In 1998, skydivers began parachuting into the Maxville Fairgrounds during the Friday night Tattoo, a tradition that has carried on to this day. Prime Minister Jean Chretien opened the Games that year. He was presented with a tartan blanket as a memorial of that winter’s devastating ice storm.
49. Believe it or not, the Glengarry Highland Games has had at least one streaker. In 1999, a streaker bolted across the field, drawing cheers from the audience.
50. In 2000, Judge John Matheson, the former MP who helped create the Canadian flag and the Order of Canada, officially opened the Highland Games. Master of Ceremonies Reg Gamble said it was only second time the guest of honour received a standing ovation from the crowd. The first time was two years earlier for Jean Chretien.
51. Over the years, the Maxville Fairgrounds have seen a number of upgrades to better accommodate the crowds during the Games. Shortly after the 56th Highland Games in 2003, a new grandstand was built to accommodate an extra 540 spectators.
52. The MacCulloch Dancers have long been an integral part of the Highland Games. The troupe was founded by the late Rae MacCulloch, who was guest of honour in 2004. That year, she and her dance students, past and present, set a world record at the Games for the most Highland dancers dancing at once.
53. In 2005, the Glengarry Highland Games celebrated the Year of the Veteran by providing free admission and special treatment for all veterans. The event was held as part of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
54. For many years, St. Columba Presbyterian Church in Kirk Hill has held a Kirkin ‘O’ The Tartan on the Sunday after the Highland Games. It’s always a colourful event as local families have their tartans blessed at the church service.
55. In 2007, the Glengarry Highland Games began hosting a tug-of-war competition for military regiments. What started as a novelty has grown to something that’s just as popular as the caber toss.
56. In 2008, the Friday night Tattoo concert headliner – Scotland based Scocha – recruited Ottawa’s Cameron Highlanders Pipe Band to accompany them on an original piece titled On the Road to Passchendaele, paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the 1917 WWI battle.
57. The SDG Highlanders are now a mainstay in the Games’ annual tug-of-war. For many years, they ran a recruiting station at the Games and even allowed prospective soldiers to examine some of the weaponry.
58. In addition to being a celebration of Scottish culture, the Games is also a huge social occasion. There’s plenty of camping available during Games weekend and the beer tent is absolutely packed on Friday night.
59. In 2009, the Highland Games helped the Ontario Provincial Police celebrate 100 years of policing in the province. OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino was guest of honour and the weekend had a number of OPP-inspired attractions, like a K-9 unit demonstration.
60. In 2010 the Games celebrated the Year of the Fiddle. There were massed fiddling events, fiddling workshops, ceilidhs, and concerts from fiddlers from Cape Breton.
61. On the Thursday before the Highland Games, the Games committee always hosts a Tartan Ball in Maxville. It started off as a way of celebrating the Games’ golden anniversary and has since become an annual tradition. This year it takes place in the Metcalfe Centre. Dress is formal.
62. On Saturday afternoon, the Clan Parade marches around the track at the fairgrounds. In 2011, there was a concerted effort to get as many participants as possible. It worked and close to a thousand people marched, proudly showing off their Celtic heritage.
63. In 2012, the Games decided to salute Police pipe bands. Fittingly, the police bands that competed did quite well. The Peel Regional Police Pipe Band won the Grade 1 division with the Toronto Police Pipe Band as the runner up.
64. The Highland Games’ perennial emcee, Reg Gamble, has been doing his job for a long time. Back in 2014, he celebrated 25 years in that capacity.
65. The Games hosts an annual whisky tasting. This year there are two tastings on Saturday, Aug. 5. One at 2 p. m. and the other at 4. Admission is $40.
66. In 2016, the Highland Games debuted a five-kilometre kilt run. It will hold another one this year at 4: 30 p. m. on Saturday, coinciding with the closing of the Games.
67. As the Games celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, it hopes to recognize anyone who was in attendance at the very first Games back in 1948. Those lucky people will be honoured during the weekend.
68. Rugby fans can watch the game being played this year. The tournament begins at 10 a.m. on Friday behind the clan building. The championship game will be played Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on the infield.
69. Pipe bands have come from Scotland, New Zealand, and from every province and most States. There are now five competition Grades for piping and the Games continue to attract the best in piping to compete in the North American Pipe Band Championship.
70. Many people consider the Glengarry Highland Games to be the best Games in North America.
Since the beginning, the massed bands have been an important part of the Games