150th Victoria Highland Games and Celtic festival

Mighty men hurl haggis at the longest running cultural event on the West Coast of North America

Warren Fells, Pipe Sergeant of the Greater Victoria Police Pipe Band prepares for the Highland Games.

The longest-running cultural festival on North America’s West Coast happens right here in Victoria and it’s celebrating its 150th anniversary this week.

The Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival, taking place at various venues around town May 11-19, is marking the occasion with a special Chief of the Games — His Royal Highness, Prince Andrew The Duke of York.

“It’s a real coup for us,” says Jim Maxwell, president of the Victoria Highland Games Association, which hosts the annual celebration.

“The 150th will be the largest games yet, with events scheduled over a nine-day period.”

HRH The Duke of York will be making public appearances May 18 and 19 at the games’ opening and closing ceremonies at Topaz Park, where he’ll both welcome athletes and spectators and award trophies and prizes.

The Highland Games and Celtic Festival features more than just the heavy event athletics, with music, dance, food and drink on offer.

“We always try to make it a family-oriented event,” says Maxwell, who notes there will also be two beer gardens on site during the games featuring Lighthouse Brewery’s Highland Challenge Scottish Ale, brewed specifically for the festival (also available in growlers), as well as a Whiskey Tasting School, featuring three sessions each day (registration at victoriahighlandgames.com) for the big kids.

Events kick off Sat., May 11 with the annual Victoria Tartan Parade, featuring more than 10 pipe bands from across the Pacific Northwest, highland dancers, heavy event athletes and members of local Scottish organizations parading from Centennial Square (11am departure), down Government Street to the legislature lawns where the caber will be tossed. Anyone with Scottish ancestry is welcome to march in the parade wearing their tartan, along with any Scottish breed dogs (contact jmaxwell@shaw.ca for more information).

The second annual kilted golf tournament takes place Sun., May 12 at Olympic View Golf Club, with a shotgun start at 3pm.

Thurs., May 16 Spirit of the West will get Sugar Nightclub rocking (Doors at 7pm). Tickets are $35 and are available at Lyle’s Place and ticketweb.ca.

The Clan Torchlight Ceremony (Fri., May 17) is a unique opportunity to acknowledge the clans involved in the games and festival. Starting at 8pm, the games duty pipe band will perform on the legislature steps, after which representatives from each clan will light their torch and form a Scottish Saltire (also known as St. Andrew’s Cross). This event is open to the public and free to attend.

Other events include sheepdog herding trials, haggis hurling, kilted mile run, a steady stream of music and dance entertainment.

New this year is the Canadian Invitational Drum Major Championship, with the best from Scotland, Northern Ireland, U.S.A. and Canada competing for the top prize.

“We’ve carved our own niche in heavy events and drum majors,” says Maxwell. “We hosted the World Heavy Events Championship in 2010 and that really helped establish us. We can invite the top athletes and they will come.”

The heavy events will feature 12 of the best athletes, including the Scottish, English and World champions, alongside some of the top ranked athletes from the U.S.A and Canada.

Also new this year is the closing ceremonies, Sun., May 19. Beginning at 4:30pm, the spectacle will include a massed pipe band performance as well as a performance by the six-time world champion pipe band from Simon Fraser University, and of course, HRH the Duke of York.

The first Victoria Highland Games took place in 1864. Today, the games are organized by a 40-member board with the help of more than 400 volunteers. If the weather is good, organizers expect to see up to 25,000 people through the gates.

Tickets for the Highland Games are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Children under 12 are free. Advance tickets are available for $12/10 or $20 for the weekend at The Strath Ale, Wine and Spirit Merchants (919 Douglas), Loghouse Pub Liquor Store (2323 Millstream) or Vision 2000 Travel Group (4480 W. Saanich, cash only). There is free parking at Mayfair Mall. M

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