The Moncton Highland Games- June, 2010


If you are drawn to the sound of wailing pipers and beating drums, you won’t want to miss the mass band march on to the fields of Bernice MacNaughton High School at noon on Saturday June 19th,  piping in the fourth year of the very successful Highland Games in Moncton.

The festivities begin on Friday June 18th with a ‘ceilidh’, or Celtic musical gathering, in the evening and end Sunday at 11 am with a ‘kirking of the tartan’ at the St John’s Church in Moncton.  Along with the traditional highland dancing and band competitions there will be “Scottish Heavy Athletics’ such as  stone tossing, and demonstrations on salmon fly casting, highland cattle and sheep dogs. All the festivities take place on the fields, including a beer tent, children’s area and food vendors.

Robert Whitton, band leader of  The *8th Canadian Hussars Pipes and Drums, a pipes and drum band competing in the Games, says that the excitement is palpable before you even get to the fields. “As soon as you get there in the parking lot your senses are bombarded ,you are going to hear the pipes through the trees, and the drums, and the yelling, and the dancer’s music. It is a lot happening”

Don Sage, a member of the Moncton Chapter of the NB Scottish Association, and organizer of the Games, says that many people are drawn to the sound  of the bagpipes, “It seems to get to a primeval source that really pulls at you,  it gets your blood flowing”.  Whitton agrees, he thinks that it is the harmony and constant humming that makes your heart swell, “It is the background noise, you get the shrill sound of the chanter but you also get the hum of the drones in the background. There is a constant sound, and that comes from the bag because we are always got the bag full and it is applying air to all of those pipes, the bass, tenor and the chanter all in harmony at the same time”.

Many spectators come to see the world class ‘heavy’ athletics at the Games, including Stone throwing, Tug o’ War, and the infamous Caber Toss in which a large pole is flipped through the air. Sage says that the athletes competing in the Heavy Competitions are a group of trained athletes called The Old Scotia from all around the Maritimes. At least four of them were invited to compete at the National Scottish Heavy Athletics Competitions held in Moncton last year for the first time.

The pole tossed in the Caber Toss is about 160-180 pounds, says Sage, and is approximately eighteen feet long and about six to eight inches at the small end.  The basic idea is that the athlete must pick it up, stand it up, lay it on his shoulder, run with it, and flip it end over end with the pole landing straight in front of the athlete. The athlete is judged on whether the caber went end over end, and moreover, on the angle of the pole when it lands. The angle should be at twelve o’clock noon, for a high score.

“Heavy athletics were originally tests of skill and strength that the Chieftains or the clan leaders would use to decide who would be their leaders in battle, and so it was throwing the stone, throwing the hammer, Tug o’ War, caber toss, all these different feats of strength” says Whitton.

The Highland Pipes also have a military background. There are many different types of bagpipes but the Highland Pipes used at the Games are, according to Whitton, “the ones that were used in battle and they are the loudest and project the farthest. In  historical times when they were going into battle (the Highland Pipes) were the ones that they used to really get the blood going, they are like a battle instrument, and a battle cry”.

All activities are held outside, rain or shine. Sage says that last year the pipe bands were playing in the pouring rain,”but that is just the nature of the beast, everyone understands it”. Sage admits that in the case of rain there might be those in the crowd that are sipping scotch. “Well, of course, for medical purposes, to keep the spirits up and to stop shivering”.

Representatives from the ‘The East Kingdom’ of the Society for Creative Anachronism will be on hand during the Games to bring history alive for the spectators. A not-for-profit organization, the SCA is a social and educational group that studies the Middle Ages by re-creating the crafts and military training of the period. David Swan, Branch President for Moncton, says that there will likely be some sword play and storytelling during the day. “It is an opportunity to educate on how things were like during the days of The Highland Scots, we will have folks that will put on the kilt and talk in their best Scottish brogue, and very often in demos we have musicians that will try to get people to dance, or some who  do demonstrations of the fighting arts and yard exercises”.

The Highland Games are somewhat new to Moncton, this is only the second year at Bernice MacNaughton High School, before that the Games started as a demonstration at Bore Park and then a bigger gathering in Victoria Park the next year.

Bernice MacNaughton is a good choice for the Games with their athletic theme of The Highlanders and the fact that the school population is divided into four different clans. “Everything is very Scottish. It is wonderful for us to be there”, says Sage.

Everyone wears their Scottish outfits at the Games, even the athletes will be wearing their kilts. Asked the inevitable question as to what is worn under the kilt, Sage says “ Well, they always say, ‘what is worn under the kilt?” and I always say, ‘There is nothing worn at all, it is all in perfect working order”.

The final meeting of the Games, held at the Saint John’s United Church on Sunday morning, is the ‘kirking of the tartan’ which goes back to a time after the failed 1749 Rebellion, when Scottish people were barred from playing their pipes and wearing their kilts. Sage says that “What they would do is go down to the Church in the valley and post guards in the hills, and the people would bring a swatch of their own tartan to the Church and they would have it hidden on their person, and some time during the service the Minister  ‘in code’ would give a blessing and everyone would clutch their tartan wherever they had it hidden  and this was their way of keeping that alive”.

The Games offer everyone a chance to join in the fun of keeping the Scottish spirit alive.

What:  The Fourth Annual Moncton Highland Games

When: June 18th and June 19tth

Where: Bernice MacNaughton High School, 999 St George Blvd.


One Day Pass: Adult – $10, Student/Senior – $8 and Family – $25.

Two Day Pass: Adult – $18, Student/Senior- $14, Family – $50.

Weekend Pass: Adult $30, Student/Senior- $23, Includes Ceilidh


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