Greater Sudbury Celtic Festival and Highland Games

Celts of all ages and backgrounds will be gathering in Northern Ontario this weekend for the 5th annual Greater Sudbury Celtic Festival and Highland Games. Recently Celtic Life International spoke with the event’s president and producer Derek Young.

What is the event’s core mandate?
The event`s core mandate is to promote and celebrate Greater Sudbury`s rich Celtic Heritage Roots through Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian traditions which are very rich and relevant in our community.

Wow has it grown over the years?
The festival has grown over the last 5 years. Each year we add new attractions to keep fans interested and attract new audiences. In 2010 we featured Ashley MacIsaac to celebrate the Cape Breton Club of Sudbury`s 50th anniversary. That year the festival was profiled in Good Times Magazine a publication of Canadian Living. 2011 featured Leahy with their little Leahys and Natalie McMaster was backstage wearing her mom hat. The festival also featured the 2010 World Highland Dance Champion Daniel Carr from Owen Sound Ontario. In 2013 we are looking to add a pipe band competition with the Ontario Pipers and Pipe Band Society, and in 2014 we have been asked to host the Canadian Amateur Championships hosted by the Canadian Federation of Scottish Athletes. The first Scottish Heavy Games event in Canada was held in Antigonish NS.

Who attends the gathering?
The gathering is attended by local performers, story tellers, dancers, and ensembles from across the city and province of Ontario. Scottish Athletes from Ontario, Quebec and the United States also participate. The Highland Dance competition attracts dancers at all levels from around Ontario. The event is also attended by a variety of pipes bands, specialty vendors, and professional touring acts. During the last two years we have been able to attract touring acts from Scotland as well.

What can they expect to experience this year?
The audience can expect a different kind of festival this year that truly offers a good sampling of all things “Celtic“. We have added more hands on participation activities such as workshops promoting traditional milling frolic and mouth music and Celtic percussion featuring Newfoundland Ugly Stick making. Many new vendors are also attending the festival for the first time. We are promoting a “Catch Your Warrior“ theme which sells the traditional Celtic experiences of the medieval era. The major attraction within the festival is the Knights of Valour Full Contact Joust Troupe as seen on the History Channel. The Knights of Valour perform for large audiences at Renaissance Festivals across North America. There is also a local connection with Tj Howard, Sir Theodore of Lexington who was raised in Sudbury.

Why is it an important event for the Celtic community there?
The event is important for the Celtic Community because after the clearings in Scotland in 1745 many came to Canada with just their heritage. Through events such as Milling Frolic and Mouth Music the traditions have been maintained in Canada. Some of these traditions are better celebrated in Canada than they are overseas and Canadians from Cape Breton go back to Scotland to educate them on their heritage. The festival creates a sense of home for people from the “old country“ or the island. The traditions are maintained and passed down. As an example, Shirley Ann Mirka, President of the Sudbury Cape Breton was trained at St. Mary`s Gaelic College in Cape Breton and will be passing on her teachings during the festival.

Why is it an important event for the non-Celtic community there?
The event raises the awareness of a culture that has offered so much. From the development of mining, forestry, and modern industry the Celts have helped shaped Society. The event gives non-Celts an opportunity to celebrate community in a family atmosphere and to be engaged in the multicultural mosaic.

What are the plans for the event in the years ahead?
We are planning to develop more Cape Breton traditions, create more hands on activities and learning opportunities. We want to offer a sampling of the culture and focus more on the Renaissance experience of festival and become less of a music based festival. We want to be truly different and celebrate our Heritage and early beginnings with strong Celtic roots. In 2013 we are working towards hosting the Ontario Pipers and Pipe Band Society to build the pipe band component, and in 2014 we are planning to host the Canadian Scottish Heavy Games Amateur Championships.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture?
Just about every weekend in Ontario there can be up to 2 or 3 Celtic Festivals or Highland Games on the same week all summer long. The culture is proudly celebrated in Canada and is perhaps richer here than in Scotland and Ireland. Local pipe bands, Burns Societies, Cape Breton Clubs, Irish Heritage Clubs, and Highland Dance Schools work together to promote the culture. We have an individual in town who maintains a website to promote Celtic Heritage in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario has a strong connection to the Heritage through traditions such as the Gaelic College which operated in Timmins Ontario for a number of years, Ashley MacIsaac and the Rankin`s have family ties to Sudbury, and Sudbury is also home to many champion pipers and drummers including Bill Livingstone who was pipe major of the 78th Fraser Highlanders from Toronto.

What can we be doing better?
We can always do a better job of promoting the culture. Groups such as Celtic Life International, Heritage Clubs, Celtic Festivals and Highland Games are essential to preserving the traditions and promotion. Unfortunately, many of these clubs are over 50 years old now and some still have the same membership which is not getting any younger. If no new, members musicians or bands come up the ranks to maintain the culture, stories and songs the culture will die as these folks grow old. We need to learn and be mentored by them and their teachings passed down. There is a trend in our community where you see some groups such as the Irish Heritage Club are grooming young leaders to take on the responsibilities of operating their clubs. In 2011, we received communication from the Scottish Affairs Department at the British Embassy in Washington DC. The Embassy was surveying Scottish Festivals, Highland Games and Celtic Events to get a better idea of how many events there are in North America and how many participants, so they can take this data back to British Embassy to develop strategies to support the promotion of their heritage in North America. These are very exciting times to groom a new crop of Celts to keep the heritage alive by us each taking on a small piece.