Festival officials pleased as crowds packed Sportsplex grounds

Even the Min­ister of Tourism said she wants to come back.

The smiles on Fergus Scot­tish Festival and Highland Gam­es officials by Sunday morn­ing were            indicative of their mood and their assess­ment of the weekend event.

It was a roaring success.

“We got it all in,” said  happy administrator Val Brad­ley on Monday morning.

She was referring to great crowds and the festival’s at­tempt to add some “oomph” to the Sunday part of the event with a Leahy concert on that afternoon.

“The rain didn’t start until the party was over,” she said.

The nice weather meant a large crowd for the 4pm con­cert and that was preceded by other musical acts. Sunday is family day at the Scottish Festival, and Bradley said there were plenty of people on hand to enjoy the entire show.

“The concert went really well. It was really well at­ten­ded,” she said.

Acting board chairman Paul Rogers said on Sun­day morning that while atten­dance was down mini­mal­ly for the Friday Tattoo, “Saturday was way up.”

Rogers said part of that might have something to do with “stay-cations” where peo­ple on holidays remain in Ontario and take day trips. If so, many came to Fergus on Saturday. Even an hour after the rain began on Saturday af­ternoon, much of the parking lot remained full, and people simply opened umbrellas and carried on.

Bradley said while she has no exact figures yet on atten­dance, she said all three days did very well.

“People were buying tickets in the pouring rain. That’s always a good sign. It was a very successful weekend.”

Deb Dalziel noted the fes­tival received grants to place more events downtown, and even expanded the shuttle bus service to the raceway and Legion branch in Elora. She said reaching out to the community helped build a number of partnerships with downtown merchants, and she talked to people Saturday night who came to the festival strictly be­cause they had seen bands per­form earlier in the week at downtown venues.

Rogers noted working with the downtowns in two communities and the buses allows bed-and-breakfast op­era­tors to recommend the festival and people can visit without worrying about drink­ing and driving to get home. The local Chamber of Com­merce coordinated that venture.

“The BIA [Business Im­provement Area] and the festival made a serious effort to include downtown Fergus in this year’s festival,” Dalziel said.

“The merchants have been very cooperative in putting up window displays. We appreci­ate their entering into the spirit of the weekend.”

Dalziel said after the rains on late Saturday afternoon, festival officials cancelled the cover charge for the entertainment, thus building good will for locals who were coming out to see the bands, and emulating that monster concert, Woodstock, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary on the weekend. Its officials also  cancelled charges after thousands arrived there.

Rogers said working with the downtown took a while.

“We started working on this project since before Christmas,” he said.

Brian MacKay, owner of the Goose and Gridiron, could not have been happier.

“For us, it was tremendous,” he said. “Thursday night was my best sales since I opened. Friday was packed and there was lots of [takeout] food going out.”

He added, “Having those bands come down here Thursday night and Friday was just brilliant.”

The provincial Minister of Tourism was at the festi­val this year, and she was not only impressed, but stated a desire to officials to come back again.

“Events like the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games add colour and excitement to our communities and attract tourists from far and wide,” Monique Smith said.

She explained that is one reason the province provided a grant this year.

“By investing over $84,000 in this festival, our government is helping to expand and support its overall promotion locally and in United States markets. This summer, I’m encouraging all Ontarians to enjoy a stay-cation in the province and to explore all the wonderful festivals and events and attractions that Ontario has to offer.”

Dalziel said, “She indicated she wanted to come back – and we’d be delighted to have her.”

Rogers said last year’s festival, hit by disastrous rains that caused Saturday to be nearly a total washout, meant that a survey started in 2007 was delayed until this year.

That festival survey is designed to find out where people are coming from, where they stay, how they learned about the event, and if they are planning to return.

Rogers said it will be interesting to see the results for this year, compared to two years ago.

He noted that Minister Smith was ‘getting a lot of pleasure chatting with people” as she toured the grounds. She was accompanied by Conser­vative MPP Ted Arnott, who is no longer the tourism critic for his party, and Rogers said they got along very well.

Bradley was pleased a number of new events seemed to go over well. She was happy the festival added the Avenue of the Artisans. She explained several of the clans that use the area go home on Saturday, leaving empty tents. The festival gave local artists an opportunity to fill those spaces with their wares, and people seemed to appreciate that addition to the festival.

Heavy Events

The Scottish Heavy Events competition continues to be an important attraction – and Fergus has built it up to run over two days, from its previous Saturday only venue.

On Saturday, the professionals took the stage, and Americans dominated. Steve Park said on Monday the winner was Kerry Overfelt, of Ohio, followed  by Sean Betz, of Nebraska. Third was Mike Pockoski, of California. The top Canadian was Greg Hadley, of Nova Scotia.

On Sunday, there were three Heavy Events.

In the Master’s section, for men over age 40, Warren Trask, of Alma, repeated in first place. Second went to Kevin Fast, of Coburg, and third was Manfred Muellenhaus, of Germany.

In the women’s competi­tion, Summer Pierson, of Phoenix, was first, followed by Mindi Pockoski, of California, and Josee Morneau, of Mani­toba.

Since the event deter­mined the Canadian champion, Morneau took home that title, too.

In the amateur section, Josh Coldthorpe, of Bracebridge, finished in first place. Second was Brian Austin, of Cali­fornia, and Dean Curtis, of Guelph, was third.

Park said officials also present trophies for top male and female regional compe­ti­tors over the year. This year, Julie McGeachie, of Fergus, was the winner, as was Mat­thew Richardson, of Kitchener.

He was busy on the field, so Park was unable to see much of the festival, but he said the crowds seemed to be good. He said he has seen bigger ones, yet since people move around, it is difficult to get a complete picture of attendance.

But, he concluded, “Every­thing went pretty well.”