Written by Stephanie Michelle Scott
Arguably, the greatest part of being living in Vancouver is our accessibility to world class cultural events. Where cultures collide to flavour the city’s scene. If you count yourself among the Celtic-born or simply hold a badge in curiosity, there is no better place to experience the traditions of new and old of BC Highland Games.
Highland Games at Town Centre Park
Held annually at Town Centre Park, BC Highland Games is an event that seems to grow every year. If you are not sure of what to expect, I’m happy to share my experience of past festivals. The footprint of BC Highland Games from Gilford Way to Trevor Wingrove Way and are filled with cultural pavilions, food, plenty of bands but most of all – the unforgettable brawny, show-stopping heavy-event competitions.
It can feel both thrilling and a bit intimidating to walk into this epic field. If you are like me, eager to see it all, tackle it by exploring from booth to booth. Where and how to spend your time is very much up to you as the entire venue is alive and active for only 1 evening, and 1 day. Please, learn from my rookie mistake, prepare by choosing to schedule yourself around a few MUST SEE events. It’s much too easy to lose yourself in all the activities hosted by these fascinating people.
The Charm of The Highland Games
When I attend, I get a thrill from admiring the rich tartan garb that so many are wearing. I walk the tents trying to understand how so many schools of dance, cultural historians and crafters could exist in our city without me knowing much about them. I move from one tent to the next, witnessing all of the groups of entertainers preparing to perform. I can’t help wondering what it must have taken to gather them all in one place.
If this is you are new at attending BC Highland Games, here is the break-down. The festival is broken into four major thrilling competitions amongst many ongoing cultural exchanges.
- Friday 5:00 pm : Pìobaireachd Competition at Heritage Stage
- Saturday 8:00 am : Provincial Heavyweight Competition at Lew Ross Field
- Saturday : Highland Dance at the Main Stage
- Throughout the event : Solo Pipes, Drums & Pipe Bands Performed
You must visit the website to learn what the judges are looking for from competitors – you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for these long-standing games.
Highland dancing is absolutely an art, every frame rigid, every step deliberate, but in an ensemble it looks like people floating across a stage. Detailed in its movements and coordinated among very precise steps. Dancers of all ages perform in perfect sync.
It’s the flawless synchronicity I find enchanting. The music is energetic and the echoing tap of feet across a sea of mini stages bouncing to the dancers steps is a sight to take in.
Scottish Country Dancing reminds me of the historical dance of royal balls but with a barn dance feel. The entire group separates and comes together in intricate patterns. I’ve tried it, with friendly support, anyone can come out a pro or with a smile over any misstep.
Drums and Pipes alongside
There is something exciting about a marching band. Add bagpipes, heavy drums and the marriage of sound is entertaining at every over- emphasized strike and tone.
Best yet, if you look at the band members you can see under their concentration is a passion for the culture (and their bandmates). If there is one universal truth it is that the sound of the bagpipe and drums together enforces strong Scottish pride. One group consists of 11-40 musicians, but multiply this by dozens of bands competing, and you will never forget the billowing sounds across the meadows bringing you to far away lands of the Scottish hillsides.
Pipes in the Park : The British Columbia Pipers’ Association is likely the only time you will experience the magnitude of multiple groups performing. The community is thriving, that is clear to see.
Pìobaireachd competition : Piobaireachd, pronounced “pea-brock”, is the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe. If your only experience of bagpipes is from parades, you’ll need to listen to the variety of tones dancing our sorrow filled ballads only a true pro can execute. And you can hear this at the festival.
‘No Guts, No Glory’
When I think of Highland Games- it is the heavy sports competition that I think of first. Heavy Games is a sporting event like no other. This is also where many new to Scottish Games will come in contact with the mighty caber, a 15 to 23 foot long “ telephone pole” weighing in at 70 and 130 pounds. The heavy games are a series of events that consist of lifting, throwing and spirited cheering.
For distance: In grade school, gym class may have been introduced you to shot put or other olympic sports however this competition is not your average throwing event. Heavy events consist of throwing objects for distance. They use a heavy stone, or metal balls of all types.
For height: The high bar events must be seen for yourself. It is so hard to believe that one person, just like you or me, can successfully throw metal weights or stacks of hay often 3-5 times their height.
For distance and height: the incredible caber toss. A real crowd pleaser. It seems impossible, in fact you may have even heard a joke or two about throwing telephone poles around but the skills of a caber toss takes balance, strength and technique to throw these end to end. Flabbergasting!
- Stone Put
- Weight for Distance Throws
- Scottish Hammer Toss
- Weight for Height/Weight Over Bar
- Sheaf Toss
- The Caber Toss
If you are interested in trying Heavy Sports – Karyn encourages you to come out to a practice or contact her to address your curiosity.
Diversion of the Highland Stages
Part of the daytime programming includes attendees assembling to witness performances across multiple stages. The shows have surprised and impressed me every year. Often supported by cultural dances from many community groups in addition to Scottish dance and sometimes merging in creative ways. Who can forget the bhangra highland dance mashup of past years. it just works!
It might take an entire weekend to describe the many opportunities to take part in ScotFest BC. Browse their website. Here are some of the few highlights I can’t wait to experience for myself.
- Gaelic Language & Songs
- Scottish Country Dancing
- Royal Academy of Bhangra & Shot of Scotch Highland Fusion
- Katari Taiko Drummers
- Headline act: Beòlach from Nova Scotia
Join me at The BC Highland Games
Scottish Heavy Events are impossible to forget once you have witnessed them once. You’ll find men, women, teens and pros taking your breath away just a little. It’s delightful. If you love it and want to try it… well there is a community ready to welcome you to practice. Again I’ve tried it, and the community is even more delightful than the games, if that’s possible.