Highland Games create ‘buzz’
ANTIGONISH — The crowd at the Antigonish Highland Games roared as Greg Hadley tossed the massive caber.
Competing in the Canada-U.S.A. heavy games at the 149th edition of the games, Hadley in many ways personifies what the event is all about: he grew up here, coming to watch each year with his father before deciding he wanted to do more than watch.
Seventeen years of competing and six national titles later, Hadley, 29, said there’s no place he’d rather be than throwing in front of friends and family.
“I do upwards of 20 (Highland) games a year and (this) is my favourite games,” he said.
“I love coming home. The crowds are very supportive. This is a big event for us in Antigonish. The whole town just buzzes all week.”
That buzz is unmistakable as one walks through the town and arrives at Columbus Field. In an area usually reserved for runners and track athletes, dancers, drummers, pipers and burly men throwing around telephone pole-like objects and large stones take centre stage.
There’s no such thing as a quiet spot in the shade on this day. The sun beats down as pipers and drummers get in some last-minute practising before stepping in front of judges.
The sound of so many pipes, at times, resembles a massive swarm of bees, while the drumsticks dancing on snare drums sound like rain on a tin roof.
After 149 years, this town continues to rally around the event. Hadley said the support has a lot to do with there being something for everyone: competitions, a parade, cultural events, food and a festive atmosphere.
“It’s a really family-friendly event,” he said.
Between the weather, crowds and atmosphere, Alisha Grant was a happy lady.
“You couldn’t ask for more,” said the chairwoman of the Antigonish Highland Games committee.
While the popularity of the games has a lot to do with the hospitality and events offered, Grant said it also serves as an unofficial homecoming for many people in the area.
“Anyone who’s going to come home during the summer, they generally plan their trip around Highland Games weekend because they know that’s when they’re going to get to see old friends and family,” she said.
The field is a hive of activity, with highland dancing at one end, pipe and drum bands at the other, tug-o-war to the side and heavy games in the middle.
There are cheers of encouragement and shouts of support for everyone involved from this crowd of hundreds, although even this friendly crowd reserves it’s biggest cheers for local participants.
And while the Highland Games might be a nod to the history of Antigonish, things aren’t exactly stuck in the past. There’s lots of tartan, traditional dress and activities, but the past meets the present every time someone wearing a kilt reaches into their sporran and pulls out sunglasses, an iPod or smartphone.
Cicely Sparks, a piper with 12 Wing Pipes and Drums from Shearwater, said she was impressed by the community support in Antigonish. Along with seeing the other bands, the encouraging environment was the highlight of her second trip to the Antigonish Games, she said.
“It’s exciting and it’s good to know that the Highland Games are still bringing people out,” Sparks said. “It’s good to see that people are participating.”