The Canadian “May Long Weekend” has for any years marked the open of the Highland games season on the prairies, even though the prairie spring hasn’t always been kind to participants. For about the last 20 years, the Moose Jaw Highland Games and the Regina Highland Festival have run on the Saturday and Sunday of the weekend, and this year the whole weekend has been re-branded and launched as “The Saskatchewan Highland Gathering and Celtic Festival.”
The weekend has a new name, a new logo, and a fresh approach to the web site, but event co-chairs are quick to point out it’s not just a case of painting it a different colour. One feature that the event has developed is a highly efficient online entry system, which was originally developed for the Highland dancers, and now is used for piping and drumming also.
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.”
The other Co-chair is Iain MacDonald, who founded the current event in 1996 and is pipe-major of the City of Regina Pipe Band.
“With band numbers declining, and the cost of attending and running contests rising, we decided to make some big changes to the event. One thing we’ve done is to bring back the “Prairie Piping Invitational,” which will run in one of our sponsor hotels on the Saturday night. This year, we have a mixed group of seasoned and newer professionals competing in an 8-10 minute medley event. The judge is Bob Worrall, and there is a cash bar and the chance for the audience to vote for their favouite performance. We know it’s going to be a fun night for the players and the audience alike.”
“One of the really good things about contests in Saskatchewan is that it’s a middle ground for the prairies, and one of the few times in the season when we can get bands from three provinces competing together.”
The weekend includes the Saskatchewan Pipe Band Championships, the Prairie Piping Invitational, the Queen City Open Highland Dance Championship, and the Western Canadian Scottish Athletics Championship. For casual visitors, there is a new field layout that includes an all-day beer tent with entertainment and also proximity to heavy events and pipe band circles, a large tent for Highland dancing events, and a vendor village with food, vendors, children’s activities including bouncy castles. Following the massed bands on Sunday, the beer tent will continue with live entertainment to 10pm.
“We’re aware that what we are offering is similar to many excellent events around North America, and what is exciting is that we feel as though this weekend games is really a step up from what we had in past years,” said Johnson. “We’re really hoping to see lots of our friends from Manitoba and Alberta coming in to participate!”
With most places in Regina and Moose Jaw still under five feet of snow, outdoor Highland games might seem like a long way off, but hope and spring are always a part of prairie life, and that might be especially the case in the piping and drumming world.