Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games – Day 1

For a long time I’ve wanted to go to the Fergus Scottish festival. It is held in Fergus, Ontario – short for clan Ferguson. Can’t get more Scottish than that. This year was the 78th annual festival. And they were hosting the World Heavy Events Championship. This would be the year I go.

It was scheduled for August 11 to 13. I got a ticket for the Saturday and Sunday. I made arrangements to stay with friends in Acton with Fergus only a 20 minute drive away.

Unfortunately, dogs were not allowed in the festival so Eve and Greta visited with Raisin in Acton. Raisin gave up a side of the bed for Greta. Boo, the cat, provided some comic relief.

In addition to the Heavy Events, there was music at the Highland Pub and Tea Tent, whisky tasting, Clan Heritage Centre, Highland Dancing Competition, Pipes and Drums, sword fight demos and the Welcome Ceremony.

They also have a Featured Guest VIP ticket. This year’s VIPs were Scottish actor Richard Ranking who plays Roger MacKenzie in the televsion series “Outlander”. Also Canadian actor Charles Vandervaart, who plays William Ransom in the latest season of “Outlander”. They had events with the actors like Q&A, Whisky Tasting, Brunch and “Conversations”. But they weren’t in my budget although I do watch the Outlander series and have read the books.

One can park on the side streets and walk to the festival but it gets filled up early. There were 24,000 in attendance this year so you can imagine parking was premium. I paid the $5 for the onsite parking – which is in a big field next to the festival. There is also camping for those coming for the weekend.

On Friday night there is a big parade in downtown Fergus to the whole community can be involved.

I decided I would watch the World Heavy Events Championship on Saturday. The top athletes from around the world were competing. The competition dates back to the 11th Century where they were used to raise the spirits of the king. It pre-dates the modern Olympics. Common instruments and material were used at the time.

For example, the hammer through would have utilized the blacksmith’s hammer. When the games became more official the handle was rattan to give it flexibility. Today, PVC pipe is used.

The Hammer stone has two categories – 16 lb. (light) and 22 lb. (heavy). A judge came over to the audience and invited people to come and try to lift the 16lb.

After the hammer throw I wandered over to the food trucks. There was quite a few foods to choose from. Had to pass through the Pipe and Drum area. They were practicing, getting ready for the Welcome Ceremony

Decided on a chicken falafel. I asked for a bottle of water (it was listed on the menu) but the vendor explained that he wasn’t allowed to sell it. The festival had setup water bottle refill stations. I guess they wanted to cut down on single use plastic. I have left my water bottle back at the house. Settled for a Sprite. It was very tasty.

After lunch I went back to the stands to get a seat near the stage. I wanted to get the Pipe bands as they marched through the gate on to the field. Got there early because I figured the stand would fill up. Pipers took turns coming out to entertain the crowd.

It was still an hour to go for the Welcome Ceremony. Watched the hammer through from this angle. Jason Baines from Ontario.

Kyle Randalls of Scotland wearing a 150 year old kilt. He is only the third man to wear it in all those years. He threw the hammer 143 feet in this second round. In the first round he threw it 148 feet putting him in first place.

The final piper before the Welcome Ceremonies begin. They have to clear the field of the crowds.

The first wave starts. It begins with a pipe and drum band followed by a group of clans with their banners. The VIP stage is in the background.

The final wave enters. Once they are still the Master of Ceremonies begins, welcomes everyone and introduces the people who are on the stage. We all stand for God Save the King, followed by O Canada. First time I’ve stood for the King.

As they exit, the MC introduces each clan. The pipe and drum band is the Spirit of Ontario and they leave with “Scotland the Brave”. Stirring moment for sure.

Next up is the Mass Fling. All the Highland Dancers who are participating in the competition enter the field and form a big circle. From where I’m sitting, it looks mighty impressive.

The Canadian and Provincial Championship winners form the honour guard in the centre. The MC introduces them one by one. They each give a bow to the audience. The dancers preprare for their cue. Winners in today’s competition will be going to the World Championship in Scotland in 2 weeks. They bow and then begin.

Final event of the Welcome Ceremonies is the Mass Bands.

The overcast weather had disappeared but I was feeling the hot sun after all that. I headed to the whisky tent to get some shade (and whisky). For $20 I got 4 tickets. There were 4 local distillers represented. The Maple Whisky sounded intriguing but was a little too sweet for my taste.

My fav was the traditional Straight Whisky from Spring Mill Distillery of Guelph. I especially liked the display with the water dropper and ice bucket.

Headed over to the Highland Pub which is a big tent with beer and spirits. This is where the musical entertainment performs on a large stage with a great sound system. Waking Finnegan is a Celtic Rock band from New Hampshire. The tent is dark and the band is backlit from the outside. They appear darker in the video.

Went back to the grandstand to watch the final World Heavy Events. The 28lb Weight for Distance was on. Similar windup as the hammer throw. There is also a 56lb Weight for Distance which is known as the “Widow Maker”

The final event was the Caber Toss. I was really looking forward to this event. There are 2 events for this competition. The first is the turnable Caber Toss. There are a selection of cabers and the athletes test them out. Then they all agree to which one they will use.

The judges then explain the rules.

Then a group photo holding the official caber.

There are 3 parts to the competition – the pick up, the run and the toss. The “pick up” is where the athlete lifts the caber straight up from the ground. He has to have it balanced before he can run with it. The competition area is like a clock face. He picks it up and 6 o’clock and begins to run to the 12. The judge runs directly behind him to measure the caber toss.

When he has enough speed he tosses the caber lifting it with all his strength. The caber has to turn, land on its end and turn over to land on its side. Ideally the tip should land on the 12 but it can be anywhere between the 9 on the left and 3 on the right. The judge then calls out the position.

The caber is tapered so that the tapered end, which is what the athlete lifts, is lighter and can more easily travel in an arc.

In this video the caber turns and falls at the 11:30 spot.

This one lands at the 12 o’clock position putting him in first place. If there is a tie then all the throws are counted and the best of the 3 throws wins first place.

This one shows how important the initial balance is. He tries to get the balance but cannot get the run. It’s why they do the best of 3.

The final event in the Caber Toss was the “Unturnable Caber”. It is one, tough event but the prize was $5,000 for any althlete who could turn it. Unlike the other cabers this one is heavy – made of iron would, it is 20 feet long, weighs 140 lbs and has almost no taper making it difficult to turn. There have been two athletes in the past who did manage to turn it. However, no one at today’s festival was able to do so.

The festivities continued into the evening with musical acts at the Highland Pub. I had been in the sun a long time and decided to head home. I still had all day Sunday to be Scottish.