Gemmill Park, just west of Ottawa, is the place to be this weekend for the 19th annual Almonte CeltFest. Recently we spoke with event co-chair Jane Torrance about what attendees can expect over the coming days.
What is your own ethnicity / heritage?
I am Scottish, with roots from the Isle of Lewis, Largs, and Lanarkshire
When and why did you get involved with the festival?
I have attended the festival every year for 19 years. A few years ago, I decided it was only fair that I lend a hand
Why is it an important event for the community?
It is a freewill offering/donation at the gate event that is open and available to all, and it celebrates the heritage of our earliest settlers in the Ottawa Valley; it offers a venue for younger performers to play alongside very experience hall-of-famers and grand-masters; the Celtic College pairs experts (often our headliners) with amateurs wanting to learn; the Celtic influence on the music, song and dance in the Ottawa Valley is mixed Irish, Scottish, French and Polish, and at Almonte Celtfest we see it all, and actively encourage young performers!
Who traditionally attends the Festival?
It is an all-ages festival, and attract families and seniors, generally from a 200km radius including Ottawa Valley, Western Quebec, Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, the Seaway, upper New York state. We see a lot of musicians come through our gates.
What can they expect this year?
High energy! We have a great mix of local, regional and national bands; an expanded 2 day Celtic College, with great music and voice workshops on Saturday, and Contra Dance workshop on Sunday; and hopefully lovely weather – we have people in charge of :hanging their rosary on the clothesline” to ensure this!
How has the event evolved through the years?
The festival started with a Sunday morning fiddle mass, with performers spreading into Gemmill Park (just behind the church) for a few hour jam session with some invited guests. It is now a full 2 day festival with additional programming on Friday night.
Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
Next year is our 20th Anniversary, and I hope to stay on board for that in a major role. After that, I would really like a minor role, but not so much responsibility.
How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
In Almonte, we also have an established North Lanark Highland Games in August, and I volunteer there as well – usually just a shift of serving in The Legion beer garden! I host an annual Robbie Burns Dinner, and have recently volunteered to help organize a St. Andrew’s day dinner with the Scottish Society of Ottawa. I have also volunteered to manage the social media for the Ottawa Irish Society, but have not yet begun this job.
Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I think there is – and the more you try to find, the more you realize is out there!
What can we be doing better?
Teach our kids that they can play hockey AND the fiddle; encourage pipe bands to offer lessons and keep their band sustainable; celebrate Irish Step, Scottish Fling and Valley Clogging within families; keep celebrations alive, and attend a Robbie Burns or St. Andrew’s day supper as well as a St. Patrick’s party.