Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games a resounding success

FERGUS – After two years of only hosting a virtual festival, the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games came back with a vengeance last weekend.

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

The weekend seemed to go off without a hitch.

While she didn’t have final figures, festival executive director Elizabeth Bender said on Aug. 16 she believes attendance was its highest ever.

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

Anecdotally, “pretty much across the board the feeling was that we had a record-breaking year,” Bender said.

“The Tattoo (on Friday night) was busy, Saturday was really busy. And the comments we heard were really positive as well.

“People were patient with us, enthusiastic and grateful that we were back.”

She added, “It was so gratifying that people were rooting for us to be successful.”

And people came from near and far. Bender said she knows of one visitor who came from Australia specifically for the festival.

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

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

But they did add a new feature to the tattoo – a flaming caber was part of a 15-caber salute to remember and commemorate loved ones who have died in the past few years.

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

“It was quite the spectacle as the caber – that really was on fire – was tossed.”

There was an Outlander theme this year as well, 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 for that,” Bender said. “People adore the series and the actors.”

Bender said as important as the number of visitors to the festival is the number of competitors for the events – and there was a good turnout of athletes for the heavy events, the pipe bands and highland dancers.

The festival, along with Centre Wellington township, invested some money the past few years on improving water, hydro and wifi on the grounds outside the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex, where the festival is held.

Bender said those improvements went a long way to improving the experience for all who attended, from vendors to campers to competitors and visitors.

“There were less hiccups than in the past,” she said.

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

The festival could have used more volunteers.

“Some had to bow out at the last minute, so we ran with a slightly smaller crew. And we’re thrilled we pulled it together,” said Bender.

And even as organizers are taking this week to rest up after the weekend, they are well into planning for next year.

“I am running on fumes right now,” Bender said with a laugh. “But we’re very happy. It felt so good to be back.”