ANTIGONISH, N.S. - While wet weather forced the official opening ceremonies indoors, the rest of the 155th Antigonish Highland Games enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures.
“It was gorgeous, a great weekend; but better than the weather was the people,” Antigonish Highland Society president Harley MacCaull said, after taking part in the Games’ last event on Columbus Field early Sunday evening – the mass pipe band performance and pipes and drums’ awards ceremony.
“The spirit on the field again this year was absolutely exciting; people who are here are here to celebrate the Scottish culture and it’s great,” he added.
“And there is so much going on; people are all over the field doing different events at the same time and it really creates a great atmosphere and helps keep the culture alive.”
And while the weekend, with the heavy events, piping and drumming, and Highland Dancing competitions still remain the emphasis of the Games, more activities are being added early in the week and during the weekend which honour the culture, as well as physical activity.
“It really has,” MacCaull said in response to the suggestion the Games’ have essentially become a week-long celebration.
“We’re so excited that this year we connected with Bike Nova Scotia. Last weekend they had more than 70 bikers at the [Riverside International] Speedway and they’re quite keen to come back and expand on it next year which is wonderful.
“And the event at the [St. Ninian’s] Cathedral last night in honour of Jimmy MacPherson, [its success] has the cathedral people thinking ‘maybe we could do this more often.’
“It was just another glorious expression of who and what we are here in Antigonish … the music and presentations were marvelous.”
This year’s Games were dedicated to MacPherson, the long-time organist, senior choir director and vocalist at St. Ninian’s Cathedral, who passed away in early November of last year.
The Games were also dedicated to Allan J. MacEachen and Anna Winnifred ‘Winnie’ MacDonald, both of whom also passed away over the past year.
MacDonald, affectionately referred to as ‘The Queen of Lanark’ was a regular at the Highland Games, including attending the parade in 2017 at the age of 99, and a gifted musician.
During the opening ceremonies, Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Arthur LeBlanc spoke to MacEachen’s many political accomplishments and support for his Scottish heritage and culture.
Each Highland Games rely heavily on volunteers stepping up and this year, even with the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games making demands on the same base, was no exception.
“The big question is, how do you get people to come out?” MacCaull asked. “But, every year, they do, and the ones who come out seem to enjoy themselves and do they ever do a good job.
“This year, we had the cadets and this field is in super shape today. We’re really thankful to the volunteers – more than 300 of them – this really can’t happen without them.”
Anne MacDonald, committee chair for piping and drumming, was also praising the volunteers.
“Our volunteer group is growing; we have some new blood and experienced people and they just make everything run smoothly,” MacDonald said, referring specifically to her activity.
She also commented on the ideal weather on Saturday and Sunday.
“We had fabulous weather and a big field of competitors, especially at the lower grades,” she said. “We had a good range all across the grade levels. I think it was a success … people are happy.”
Also happy are the local businesses which benefit from the Games’ with visitors coming to Antigonish for an extended period.
“That’s the nuts and bolts of the thing, the practical side, you can’t imagine how much of an economic impact it is for the community of Antigonish,” MacCaull said.
“It’s not only what happens on the field but people choose this week, because the Highland Games are a focal point, a reason to come home or visit Antigonish. Without this focal point, people wouldn’t wander back to Antigonish as frequently as they do.
“That’s very important for the life and economy of our community.”