The Glengarry Highland Games

The quiet farming community of Maxville, Ontario is sure to get noisy this weekend as one of Canada’s best (and best-attended!) Highland Games celebrates its 66th anniversary. Recently we spoke with the event’s Director of Advertising and Past President Dona Cruickshank about the annual gathering, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors.

What is your own ethnicity / heritage?
Like most Canadians I am a mixture of several ethnic groups but I would identify mostly with my Scots ancestors. My father’s family, the MacIntyres, came from Fort William, Scotland in 1784 and were given a Crown deed to lands in Stormont County. On my mother’s side, my grandmother was a MacLeod who lived to be 100 and was very proud of her Scottish heritage. She could remember her parents speaking Gaelic when they didn’t want the children to know what they were saying.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I have a cottage at Loch Garry in Glengarry County and many of the residents there are part of the Games. I had attended the Games but had no idea what was entailed in working with the event. One of the people at the Lake keep after me to volunteer and I finally offered to look after the Information Booth. Shortly after that I became part of the Advertising Committee and eventually became the Chair. Then in 2008 and 2009, I had the honour of being the President of the Games. It was a great opportunity to see how the many and varied pieces that make up the Highland Games all came together to produce one of the best Celtic festivals in North America.

What are the challenges of being involved?
The Games – although only two days a year – is a 365 day commitment. One month after the Games are finished for that year, the committee meetings start again and from then on meet monthly. Added to that are the many committee tasks to get your section of the Games ready for the next Games. The challenges are to combine all of the aspects of this volunteer role and do a job well done. Your individual work is very much tied into the success of the Games.

What are the rewards?
Every year when the Games start, there is a feeling that cannot be described— a pride in being part of a huge group of committed volunteers who like a giant puzzle all come together at the right time and the right place to produce another successful Glengarry Highland Games. Being there when the largest massed pipe bands in North America perform at the closing is such a reward for being part of making it all happen.

Why is it an important event for the community there?
Maxville, Ontario is a small farming community in Eastern Ontario with a population of fewer than 1000 people. The Games swell that population to 20,000 over the weekend and fill hotels, restaurants and venues within 100 km around the site. Glengarry County has taken the slogan as Ontario’s Celtic Heartland and adopted the Games tartan as their own. The Games and the County are synonymous.

What can attendees expect this year?
The Games are excited this year to have the World Champion Juvenile Pipe Band, the George Watson College Pipes and Drums from Edinburgh perform as part of the Friday night Tattoo. As well, the Games are pleased to have Clan Chief Ruairidh Donald George MacLennan of MacLennan, the 35th Hereditary Chief of Clan MacLennan attending this year’s celebrations.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
Work commitments keep me from being involved in many of the Celtic aspects of Glengarry, but I am Director of our family’s heritage cemetery, MacMillan Cemetery in Stormont County which a dedicated group of volunteers attempts to maintain. Many of our early Scots emigrants lie there from Lochaber and area – the MacMillans the MacIntyres and the MacDonalds.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
In Glengarry counties, the Scottish heritage is very much alive. In fact, visitors from Scotland say that Glengarry is more Scottish than it’s homeland. Bagpiping, highland dancing and Gaelic are still a part of everyday life in Glengarry. The Glengarry Highland Games was indeed created to ensure that the Scottish traditions would remain very much a part of our lives in Glengarry.

What can we be doing better?
The key is to involve the youth and here in Glengarry, Scottish traditions are very much part of their lives. It isn’t unusual to have a wedding with a groom in full highland regalia, or to have a dance with young and old two-stepping together across the dance floor. Our classes for dancing, piping and drumming continue to attract many young people.

What does the future look like for the Glengarry Games?
With the Scottish traditions so embedded in the life of Glengarrians, the Games are ensured of a long and healthy future. Coupled with that, the Glengarry Highland Games are known as the pre-eminent Games in North America for pipers who aspire to compete at the World’s in Scotland. We are proud of our Games and continue to strive to live up to our mission of being the best Celtic festival possible. Come to the Games and see for yourself.