Saskatchewan Highland Gathering and Celtic Festival

The weather looks promising for both Regina and Moose Jaw this weekend as pipers, dancers and athletes from Western Canada and elsewhere come together for the Saskatchewan Highland Gathering and Celtic Festival, Event co-chair Iain MacDonald gives us the details.

What is the core mandate of this weekend’s event
The Saskatchewan Highland Gathering and Celtic Festival is a unique celebration of Celtic heritage, featuring all-day entertainment, a beer tent, whisky tasting, free children’s activities, the amazing colour and sound of pipe bands, Highland dancing and Highland feats of strength in the form of Scottish heavy athletics, such as caber tossing! The Festival promotes Scottish and wider Celtic culture to the general public in Saskatchewan, and gives community members a chance to get involved with music, dance and athletics. The location at the University of Regina campus provides an excellent setting for the day’s entertainment, and the Games will feature a music and dance stage with local performers, dance groups, fiddlers, and storytellers in a complete afternoon of fun!

How has it grown over the years?
There has been a pipe band contest on the May Long Weekend in Saskatchewan going back at least to the 1960s, first in Moose Jaw, then Moose Jaw and Saskatoon on the Saturday and Sunday, and since 1996 it has been Moose Jaw and Regina. The games have been run and organized separately, but in recent years we have had stronger collaboration and this year we pulled it together under a new name, with great community involvement from sponsors. From originally a pipe bands only event, it has grown to include Scottish athletics, Highland dancing, solos, and a full day of performances by various music and dance groups. This year, we are also bringing back the Prairie Piping Invitational, featuring six professional pipers in competition.

Who attends the gathering?
The event features pipe bands from across the prairies, Highland dancers from across Western Canada competing to win the “Queen City Championship,” and the HAZTECH Western Canadian Scottish Athletics Championship, with representatives from the four Western Canadian provinces. The general public attends events in both Moose Jaw and Regina, and we have activities for families at the games.

What can they expect to experience this year?
Games co-chair Jason Johnston is a Regina resident who also happens to be the current Canadian Scottish Athletics Champion, and a Canadian record holder in two events. “We’ve wanted to bring an authentic ‘games feel’ to these events for some time, and this year we have put together a weekend package that I’m really excited about. With major sponsorship funding from the Regina Hotel Association, and a number of new sponsorship partners, we have been able to develop the events and programs over the whole weekend. Our goal is to make this a really fun and exciting event for people to attend, whether they are casual games visitors, or regular participants.”

Why is it an important event for the Celtic and non-Celtic communities there?
The Festival is important for the Celtic community here because it is the only Highland games weekend in Saskatchewan throughout the year. Neighboring provinces, with larger Scottish and Celtic communities, are able to sustain more Games in the summer, but this is it for Saskatchewan, so it has to be the showcase for the year. The Festival carries the same importance for the non-Celtic community, too. It’s the one chance people have to really engage in an outdoor Celtic experience, and it provides a great festival atmosphere for the general public, even if they don’t know anything about the cultures represented.

What are the plans for the event in the years ahead?
In the years ahead, we plan top expand the offerings of the festival, to expand the sponsorship and community connections, and really bring people from a distance to stay in Regina for the weekend, and experience a great prairie city with a Celtic flavour.