Angus Grant jokingly remembers the hustle and bustle at Columbus Field during his time volunteering with athletics at the Antigonish Highland Games as “organized mayhem.”
The Williams Point, Antigonish County native experienced it first- hand, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a dedicated volunteer with the heavy events and track and field competitions.
“There was always something to entertain you,” Grant said, noting the dancing and piping and drumming events that added to that ‘organized mayhem.’
He worked for several years with long-time track and field chair Alex MacAdam, a member of the inaugural class for the Antigonish Highland Society Games’ Hall of Fame.
Grant, who became Games’ athletics chair for a four-year period, described the annual track and field competition as “big,” noting more than 500 athletes often participated.
“There were so many high-calibre athletes,” he said.
One of the highlights of his tenure came in 1979, when the Games’ hosted the International Gathering of the Clans, which attracted participants for competitions from around the world.
“We had nothing,” Grant said, with a laugh, when recalling the equipment organizers had available for those milestone Games.
He said then Member of Parliament – the late Allan J. MacEachen “came through” with $25,000, a contribution earmarked for items, such as starting blocks and pole vaults.
One of the signature events – high jumping – included top-notch representation from Scotland, Canada and the United States.
The heavy events’ competition that year also included an international flavour.
“It was quite a year,” Grant noted.
When it came to those memorable years for track and field – including the ability to attract top-notch athletes – he agreed a key was the Columbus Field venue.
“It was known as the best one east of Montreal,” Grant said of the track, crediting the late Town of Antigonish recreation director Frank McGibbon for his dedication and tireless work in establishing that reputation.
He added athletes came to the Games from across Atlantic Canada, with numbers spiking during years they were preparing for the Canada Games. They also provided qualifying times for the Legions – the prestigious annual national championship event.
“It was a great opportunity for them to establish top times,” Grant noted.
Over the years, countless memories came not only on but also off the track.
“There were always funny things that happened,” Grant said.
He remembered a javelin thrower from the South Shore who tried to leap over a four-foot high chain link fence, which was located by the tennis courts at Columbus Field.
When he made the attempt, he lost his keys down one of the uncovered posts.
“They had to get picks and shovels and dig it out,” Grant said.
And, of course, “there were a lot of fine people,” who travelled to the Games.
There was the coach from Alberton, P.E.I. who brought athletes across the Northumberland Strait in a former milk truck, which was lined with benches.
“They would get on the floor with sleeping bags,” Grant remembered of the accommodations for athletes provided at the former Saint Andrew High School.
As for his Antigonish Highland Society’s Games’ Hall of Fame induction, he modestly downplayed his contributions, while praising the effort of others.
“There were so many people who put in so much time,” Grant said.