As organizers of the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games prepare for their 75th edition, they’re also looking back on the event history in the community.
Created in 1946 to celebrate “Scottish history and the Scottishness of Fergus,” 75th anniversary chair Rob Black says in the early days, it was a small group of community members who kept the games going.
“But now it’s expanded,” Black says. “We’ve got volunteers that come from Toronto and come from elsewhere to help for the weekend and support the festival.”
The pandemic forced the cancellation of the Scottish festival in 2020. This year it will be held virtually. But in a regular year, the festivities draw 20,000 to 25,0000 people over the course of the three-day event, Black says. That’s a considerable crowd for Fergus, a community of just 21,000.
“It’s a testament to the folks that started it and have kept it going,” he says of the festival’s enduring success.
“There’s been rained-out years. There’s been multiple years where they’ve had bad weather and so funds have been depleted. There’s been years where they’ve been near bankruptcy.”
The festival, and the group of volunteers who power it, have persevered through it all, and it appears that tenacity continues today, as organizers tackle hosting a virtual version of the festivities — set for Aug. 13 to 15.
On offer in 2021 is a “Wee Digital Ceilidh” which will feature some of the famous heavy events, music and dance at the heart of the festival, a “Paint the Town Tartan” initiative that invites residents and businesses to decorate their building in festival attire, and the “75th Gala 2 Go,” which promises “a night of festival grandeur” without leaving home.
Fans of the festival were also asked to submit photos from past iterations of the celebration which will be compiled into a video for this year's event. Black says over 90 submissions were received.
For Black, who has been attending the Scottish Festival since his parents brought him as a child in the 1970s, his favourite memories come from the years when the festival was packed into Victoria Park in downtown Fergus, it's sights, sounds and colours crammed into a single block of green space. The event eventually outgrew that venue and is now hosted at the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex, which allows for space for camping.
Black recalls a Saturday trip to the Highland Games was something his parents always made time for.
“It was the thing to do in Fergus,” Black said. “It still is, but the draw certainly reaches far greater now.”