Seventy years ago, piper Peter MacInnes after returning to Maxville from a Highland Games in Embro, Ontario, wondered to his friend and local vet, Doc Gamble, “Why could we not have a Highland Games like this in old Glengarry?” The two friends set the plan in motion with local politicians and businessmen and in August 1948, Maxville hosted its first Highland Games.
Peter’s daughter, Jean (Campbell) who competed as a highland dancer at the first Games and was herself Games President at the 50th Games, remembers, “My father’s reaction to the first Games was first elation as the crowds started to pour into Maxville and discouragement at the end of the day because they never, in their wildest dreams thought that there would be such a crowd and were not prepared to handle so many people. Their biggest problems were crowd control and lack of food. However after they reviewed the day, it was deemed wise to try again so plans quickly got underway for 1949.”
The 1948 planning committee had hoped that they might get a few thousand people, a large number for a town of 800, but much to their surprise they, the fairgrounds, and the village were overwhelmed with crowds reaching at one point more than 10,000. Jean recalls the day, “I lived and breathed the beginning of the Games at our house with talk of what the weather would be like on July 31st and would people come to make the efforts worthwhile. It was a beautiful sunny day and the excitement was amazing. I danced that day and we were surrounded by people standing at the stage in order to see. The village was decorated beautifully with residents decorating their homes with flags and tartan. There were coloured lights strung on Main Street and it was magic to see them lit at night. We were excited to see eight pipe bands marching through the crowd.”
Seventy years later the Games can boast of hosting the largest massed pipe bands at the North America Pipe Band Championships™ with bands that one year reached over seventy. Through the years, world famous pipe bands such as the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, the Clan MacFarlane and the 78th Fraser Highlanders as well as the Knightswood Junior Pipe Band from Scotland have thrilled the fans at the Games.
Starting with William Lyon MacKenzie at the first Games, it has been a Games tradition to have a Canadian celebrity including Prime Ministers, Governor Generals, sports celebrities and even an astronaut open the competitions each year. The Friday night Tattoo stage has seen the best in celtic entertainment such as The Alexander Brothers, Great Big Sea, John McDermott and Natalie McMaster along with local stars, Rae MacCulloch and Ken MacRae, composer of Glengarry My Home.
Along the way, a Canadian stamp was created to commemorate its 50th Year in 1997, and in 2004 Rae MacCulloch and her 505 highland dancers set a Guinness World Record on a muddy field. Canadian and World records have been set in the heavyweight competitions while the highland dancing competitions feature World and Canadian Champions.
Today the Games have grown to two full days, Friday and Saturday, with a wide range of special events that keep the crowds coming and turning it into one of North America’s premier Highland Games. No matter how the Games change they still honour the traditional sporting and cultural events of their Scottish ancestors.
This year’s 70th edition on August 4th and 5th in Maxville will salute the contributions of Scots in Canada as a tribute to our Nation’s 150th, but the real focus will be celebrating 70 years of producing the best celtic event possible.
As Games President Anne Stewart states, “Plans are well underway to bring a combination of new and traditional events to this summer’s Glengarry Highland Games. Our guest will be treated to an amazing array of History and Heritage in celebration of the Games’ 70th anniversary and Canada’s 150th.”
A Heritage Village will showcase Glengarry’s rich history and heritage as well as 70 proud years of the Games. Characters from Canada’s history can be found strolling the grounds and visiting the Clans and History displays. In a few weeks, the Friday Tattoo headliners will be announced and their names will please all Games fans, young and old. Everyone always wants to know who will open the Games and when the Guest of Honour is announced next month, people will agree with the choice of someone who has given so much not only to the Games but to Canada and the world as well. A 70th Games logo was designed and will announce to all that this is a special Games.
In 1948, when the first Games organizers decided to revive the ancient Scottish traditions with their highland event, little did they think that 70 years later, tens of thousands would still be trekking to Maxville on the long summer holiday weekend. As Past President and Peter MacInnes’ daughter reminisces, “It is too bad that all the organizers in 1948 couldn't see what the Games have become.”
Come and find out for yourself. August 4&5, 2017