The NHL is done. The NBA is done. High schools are putting on proms and celebrating graduates. The calendar will soon flip from June to July with Canada Day festivities ready to light up the night time sky. And, before you know it, the 156th Antigonish Highland Games will be here.
“Things are good, everything is coming together,” Games’ executive director Tammy Beaton told the Casket June 18.
“Everything is booked; ticket sales are going along well.”
Still with tickets, Beaton talked about those for the Am Baile Mòr Highland Tour; the historic guided bus tour around Antigonish town and county, Tuesday, July 9.
“Tickets are $30 and that includes a meal,” she said.
“We’ll have guest speakers talking about the history at Culloden, then it goes along James River, it stops in Arisaig for lunch at Steinhart’s Distillery and does a tour there.
“They had it years ago and then they didn’t have one for a while. They had it again two years ago but last year we didn’t have it; this year we’re going to do it again.”
The Games’ get underway with a few activities over the July 6-7 weekend and continue to ramp-up to the following weekend where the official opening of the Games, on Friday (July 12) evening, leads into the highlights of the event; the Scottish heavy weight events, and Highland Dancing as well as band, piping and drumming competitions.
The main weekend landing a little closer to the middle of the month this year is just a product of the calendar, Beaton said.
“The past two years, July 1 has landed on a Saturday and then a Sunday, so it just made it earlier, being the second weekend of July,” she said. “This year’s dates, the 1st lands on a Monday, so it, kind of, puts it back to where we think it should be. People were not expecting it the last couple of years to be so early, but that’s just the way it landed, because we’re the second full weekend of July.”
Beaton talked about questions she is asked often, leading up to the Games.
“Most people want to know who is performing Saturday night and this year it’s Còig out of Cape Breton,” she said. “A lot of people are excited about that; I’ve heard they’re a lot of fun.
“That’s one, and what’s new. With that, we’re trying to get a few more workshops in on Saturday; a Gaelic workshop, a step-dancing workshop, hopefully a drumming. Our summer students are looking at that part of it. They would be at the field, hour-long workshops, and we’ll have a schedule so if people want to check them out, they can,” Beaton added, noting all the workshops work into the Scottish and Gaelic themes of the Games.
There will be a new class for the Highland Society Hall of Fame this year, with an induction ceremony Thursday (July 11) evening at the Antigonish Royal Canadian Legion in the East Coast Credit Union Social Enterprise Centre on St. Ninian Street.
“Tickets are on sale for that too,” Beaton said. “It’s nothing too formal, there will be food, appetizers, things like that and it’s a good chance to mingle, catch-up … it will be a lot of fun.
“And there is a whiskey tasting event this year at the Townhouse. They’re still working out the details on that but, I believe, it’s going to be Tuesday night, after the bus tour. That will be something new and it, again, helps spread events throughout the week.”
As for who calls in with these inquiries, Beaton said many from the U.S., but they really come from all over the world.
“People wanting to know about tickets, accommodations, where to stay, to park; people definitely plan their week out,” she said. “And, of course, it’s homecoming [time] for people from around Antigonish. It’s the time they all come home.”
All the visitors, whether they’re coming to Antigonish for the very first time or are former residents who, as Beaton suggests, circle the occasion as a good time to return home for a visit, can help the local economy.
“It’s usually the first event of the summer and a big economic driver for our area,” Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said.
“Not only do people come and spend money while visiting here; it’s the warm welcome from our community that they take away with them and then spread that word [about a great Antigonish experience], and it seems it’s getting to more and more people.”
Boucher described the Games as a “benchmark” for the community and noted the town is “excited to be one of the presenting sponsors.”
As for her favourite activity, the mayor pointed to one which sit on top of the list for a lot of people.
“I would have say the heavy events are a favourite part, and the tug of war.”
Municipality of the County of Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron talked about the Games being “steeped in tradition.”
“It’s a highlight of our cultural background and it draws people from all over the world, really. The second longest running Games out there, it’s a significant tourist attraction to both town and county,” McCarron said.
“That event is something people look forward to attending each year and, again, it’s one that, kind of, signals the beginning of summer in this community and is always well-attended.”
As for his favourite part, McCarron said there is nothing like hearing the bagpipes coming from a Games’ site.
“That’s something that you can never really hear enough of that during the Highland Games,” he said.
“But I’m also pretty partial to the heavy events as well. The heavy events on the field, on Saturday and Sunday, are pretty special moments throughout the Games.”
For more on the Games, visit its new website at antigonishhighlandgames.ca.