At 70 years, Games still going strong
Seventy years ago, when Lorna Winter’s father suggested that the family take in the inaugural Glengarry Highland Games, her initial reaction was one of reluctance.
Her family lived in Fournier, a 20- minute car drive away, and Mrs. Winter’s father was eager to see what the Games were about. So Mrs. Winter went and was blown away by the sheer popularity of the then fledgling event.
“I remember there were a whole lot of people there that I didn’t expect,” says Mrs. Winter, adding that she quickly became a lifelong fan of the Highland Games – only missing about five in its seven-decade history.
Her friend, Jean Metcalfe, says she also became hooked on the Games after attending the first edition. She’s only missed them once when she had to attend a wedding in Nova Scotia in 1955.
The two ladies were part of a contingent of people who had been to the very first Games way back in 1948. They were granted free admission to the Games, welcomed to a reception, and given their own table right near the infield.
On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise visit to the Games. Decked out in a kilt featuring the Sinclair tartan (his mother, Margaret, was a Sinclair), the PM visited the Sports Hall of Fame and then spent a good hour meeting people, shaking hands, and posing for selfies.
It was not Mr. Trudeau’s first time to the Games. He was first here in 2015.
“I was here two years ago and I promised that I’d come back when I was Prime Minister,” he said.
Although Mr. Trudeau was an obvious welcome visitor, the heavy rainfall – which plagued the Games at several intervals – was not.
As early as Thursday, Games lovers were anxious about the weather and, on Friday evening about an hour before the Tattoo, Games President Anne Stewart lamented about how the overcast skies made it impossible for one of the Tattoo’s annual traditions – skydivers descending into the infield bearing the flags of Scotland, the United States, and Canada – to take place.
Ms. Stewart had nothing but praise for the previous evening’s Tartan Ball, which featured “perfect” entertainment by the MacLeod Fiddlers and the MacCulloch Dancers.
Although Friday evening’s early events managed to beat the rain – audiences enjoyed the traditional early massed bands, Highland dancers, massed fiddlers, tug of war competition (Sons of Glengarry beat South Glengarry in the finals two draws to one) and the singing of the national anthems (new this year: the Canadian anthem was sung by a trio – Rachelle Campbell, Isabelle Larocque and Camille Chartrand), the thunder and lightning picked up shortly afterward and the majority of the Tattoo had to be cancelled.
As such, people flocked to the beer tent and the Metcalfe Centre, where they were able to socialize and listen to some music.
There were a number of changes at this year’s Games. One of the most notable being that the Highland Dancing competitions were moved into the nearby arena. Some of the dancers said they appreciated being out of the rain, but a few commented that the heat (especially on Friday) sometimes made things uncomfortable.
By moving the dancing to the arena, the Games committee was able to free up the entire north side of the infield, which made it possible for another new event – rugby. Indeed, those near the north side were able to watch some informal matches of men’s squads, women’s squads, and junior rugby.
Those rugby games ended on something of an emotional note. Once the matches were over, the men retired to the Metcalfe Centre where the Clans Squad treated them to free beer and gave them some commemorative T-shirts that paid tribue to their friend and fellow player, Finch resident Nate McRae, who passed away on April 10 of brain cancer at the young age of 23. Something else that was new was the addition of a history tent. Many local history groups had in- formation booths set up in there. Sir John A. Macdonald could even be seen roaming the area and answering questions about his regime (for the record, he does not like his likeness on the 10 dollar bill and regrets the way he handled the Louis Riel situation) and there was even a small platform so local historical groups could talk about area history. One of those presentations featured Lochiel resident Chelsey MacPherson, who, along with six other people, gave a demonstration of waulking.
While the rain continued to pour down on Saturday, it was more of an inconvenience than it was a safety hazard. It hit on Saturday afternoon just as the opening ceremonies were getting underway. When the sun broke through the clouds while Guest of Honour, Toronto Police Pipe Band Major Bill Livingstone was speaking, he quipped: “I have been called arrogant before, but I know that was not for me.” He also noted that when he helped win the world pipe band championships back in 1987 – becoming the first ever non-Scottish band to win such a distinction – it was on a day so rainy that “it made today look like a nice day on a beach in Bermuda.”
Indeed, Mr. Livingstone demonstrated a fine sense of humour during his brief time on the stage. After being escorted there by a horsedrawn white carriage, he noted: “I know that when that happened to my lowland forbears, they were being taken to the gallows. So this is a blessing.”
Mr. Livingstone had kind words for Maxville, saying that he’d been to Highland games in several places and that “no one does this kind of thing the way Maxville does.”
Much was made at the Games of the passing of Connie Kippen Blaney, who died in January at the age of 83. She was a former Games president and a lifelong piper who had been involved with the Games since their inception in 1948.
“Wherever she played and competed, she always won,” MC Reg Gamble said. “She brought fame to the community and, by extension, the Highland Games. Many Glengarrians are accomplished pipers today because of her.”
PIPE BAND COMPETES: Glengarry’s Grade 5 Pipe Band competes at the Highland Games on Saturday afternoon. The local group placed second in its category, coming in just behind Georgetown. The bass section was also judged best in the Grade 5 category.
MORE IMAGES FROM THE GAMES: From left: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets some young fans. St-Isidore resident Charlie Willis, 3, gets some junior caber tossing tips from volunteer Bryan Ward of Williamstown. Games President Anne Stewart welcomes...