Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games a resounding success

FERGUS – After two years of hosting just one virtual festival, the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games came back strong this past weekend.

The crowds were large, the entertainment was impressive, the athletes were breathtaking and the weather was outstanding.

The weekend seemed to go off without a hitch.

Although she does not have definitive figures, the festival’s executive director, Elizabeth Bender, said on August 16 that she believed attendance was the highest on record.

In 2019, the last in-person festival, around 22,000 people attended.

Anecdotally, “pretty much everywhere the feeling was that we had a banner year,” Bender said.

“The Tattoo (Friday night) was busy, Saturday was really busy. And the feedback we heard was also very positive.

“People have been patient with us, excited and grateful that we’re back.”

She added: “It was so rewarding to have people cheering us on to succeed.”

And people came from near and far. Bender said she knew a visitor who came from Australia especially for the festival.

There was nothing really new this year. Just having the festival again felt pretty new, Bender said.

“We have a lot of traditions at the festival and for our first time we wanted to stick to those traditions,” she said.

But they added a new feature to the tattoo – a flaming caber was part of a 15 caber salute to remember and commemorate loved ones who passed away in recent years.

“The memorial coin allowed us to reflect on lost loved ones,” Bender said.

“It was quite a sight when the caber – which was really on fire – was thrown away.”

There was also an Outlander theme this year, Bender said, with author Diana Gabaldon and actors Gillebride MacMillan and Duncan Lacroix from the TV series in attendance.

“It was actually overwhelming, the number of people who came out for this,” Bender said. “People love the show and the actors.”

Bender said the number of competitors for the events was as important as the number of visitors to the festival – and there was a good turnout of athletes for the heavyweight events, pipers and Highland dancers.

The festival, along with the Township of Center Wellington, has invested money in recent years in improving water, electricity and wifi on the grounds outside Center Wellington Community Sportsplex, where holds the festival.

Bender said these improvements have gone a long way to improving the experience for everyone involved, from vendors and campers to competitors and visitors.

“There were fewer misses than in the past,” she said.

“In 2019 we knew there were serious issues and the improvements allowed us to be safer, more efficient and to work with this huge crowd.”

The festival could have used more volunteers.

“Some had to pull out at the last minute, so we raced with a bit smaller crew. And we’re glad we did it together,” Bender said.

And even if the organizers take advantage of this week to rest after the weekend, they are well prepared for next year.

“I’m running with vapers right now,” Bender said with a laugh. “But we are very happy. It was so good to be back.

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Jennifer R. Strohm