Monday, October 27, 2014

Well, Once Again, It’s a Wrap for Celtic Colours until Next Year

When the first Celtic Colours International Festival was held in Cape Breton in 1997, I was only 17 and not really interested in such events. In my arrogant teenage mind, it was something that only “boring old people” would attend. I moved away to another province in 2000 and didn’t come back until 2011 so I didn’t pay much attention to the festival during that time. Cape Breton is where I was born and raised but moving back after no many years felt like moving to a foreign country. I didn’t know what people did for fun and all the friends I had growing up had moved away to Halifax or Out West to work in the oil fields. I started to look for social events to attend in order to keep myself busy and meet new people. It was in the summer of 2012 that I, once again, started hearing about the Celtic Colours Festival and this time around, it sounded like something that would be right up my alley. Concerts by well-known local musicians and world-renowned acts, cultural events, guided hikes and markets, meeting people from all over the world? Sounded like my kind of week!
That year, I attended a few cultural events but mostly followed the festival from afar. It wasn’t until the following year, when a friend offered me an extra ticket to see Ashley MacIsaac At the Joan Harriss Pavilion that I really started to get into the event. That memorable concert, along with the other events I took in that week, turned me into an devoted Celtic Colours fan.

Spring 2014 arrived and I was looking forward to the many events that would be happening on the island all summer but it was the annual Celtic Colours Festival, that takes place in October, that really had me hyped. That week finally arrived and I was ready to attend as many events as I possibly could. A few days before the festival got underway, I made a schedule with the help of the Celtic Colours International Festival website which had all the events listed with their dates and times along with a nifty schedule-maker tool. This tool allowed me to add all the events I wanted to attend to a sort of dayplanner that was than sent to my email account. The best thing about this scheduler was that it let me know if any of the events conflicted with other events so I could plan accordingly.

The prices for most events are very reasonable and many people who come from away try to attend as many of the concerts and events as possible. However, for me, I was unable to attend many of the concerts because I was laid off from my job only a few days before the festival began. Fortunately, there were plenty of free and very low-cost events happening throughout the week. This year, I took part in several of these events including The Whitney Pier Historical Walk and the Scottsville Celtic Walk. I tried to get to some of the farmers markets that took place around the island but there were scheduling conflicts. Besides, markets happen all season; I wanted to take part in the events that would only happen once. One of those one-time events I wanted to take part on was a free whale tour that was being offered by Oshan Whale Tour in Bay St. Lawrence. I called to reserve a spot but, as I suspected, they were booked to capacity. The owner took my name and number and told me that if anyone cancelled, she would call me but that call never came. I’m not even sure if the tour went ahead or not because the waters were choppy that day and the air was a bit chilly to be out on the water.

The first Celtic Colours event I attended was the Whitney Pier Historical Walk. Although I am quite familiar with Whitney Pier, I love history and learning more about my local area. And I did learn some things I didn’t know and got to walk a city trail that I didn’t even know existed. For example, I had no idea that the remnants of an entire Polish community in the area was still standing just as it did when it was first developed. Some of the old homes are still there and descendents of the original owners still live in some of them. Unfortunately, a monument that was placed there was burned by some vandals. Whether this is a throwback to some of the prejudice views of the past or just an act perpetrated by some bored and disrespectful kids is yet to be discovered but it is a senseless and hateful act nonetheless and one that I am now aware of thanks to that informative walk through one of Cape Breton’s most multicultural neighborhoods. I learned that once-upon-a-time, the Sydney Steel Plant had employees use different entrances to come to work based on their ethnic background. Something else I was not aware of. I pass through The Pier everyday on my way to Sydney but, that day, I got to experience a different side of it and see it from a new angle. The views of the harbour along that trail were quite scenic but one can still see some of the remnants of the old Steel Plant and the infamous Tar Ponds which became known as one of Canada’s worse environmental disasters.
A few days later, I attended another guided historical walk, The Scottsdale Celtic Walk. I had some trouble finding out where Scottsdale was located but I had a hunch it was in the Margaree area somewhere. I was right. It was near the far end of Lake Ainslie. However, even with my GPS and directions from a friend who was familiar with the area, I still managed to get a little lost and was a few minutes late. I eventually did make it to the meeting place at the Scottsville school of crafts where a friendly and accommodating lady was waiting for me to follow her to the where the hike was taking place and join the group mid-walk. Fortunately, I only missed the first few minutes.
The hike took place amidst the bright colours of the changing leaves the area is so known for in the fall and the scenic countryside that many of the Scots settled when they first came here because it looked so similar to the Highlands of Scotland. We walked along a remote, gravel road alongside the Southwest Margaree River with those colourful trees on both sides. Our guides for the walk, Geoffrey and Rebecca-Lynne, were dressed in traditional Scottish dress and even stopped along the way to sing us some traditional Gaelic songs. Gaelic is hardly spoken anywhere in the world anymore but Cape Breton is home to a fairly large population of Gaelic-speaking people. We stopped periodically to talk about the history of the area and the people who settled there. I like to think I know a lot about my ancestors and the land they settled many years ago but I learned some things I didn’t know like the background of some of the popular names in the area and the difference between the suffixes Mac and Mc. Many people think that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish but that is not always the case, so I learned that day! We walked for about an hour listening to some more of those beautiful Gaelic songs and interesting stories that were passed down from past generations.
The grand finale of the festival took place at Centre 200 in Sydney and I had the opportunity to attend that spectacular show which featured Natalie MacMaster and a host of other world-renowned musicians. She even brought along some members of her musical family which included her husband Donnell Leahy and three of her six children who are already superb dancers and fiddle players.

So there you have it. Even if you don’t have an ear for Celtic music, The Annual Celtic Colours International Festival has many activities that are suitable for everyone. One thing I noticed while attending these various events was that not very many Cape Bretoners seem to come out and participate as much as I thought they would. I would say a good 80% of the people I met throughout the week were from everywhere all over the world except here at home. I’m not sure why that is but I have made it my mission to tell anyone who will listen about this wonderful festival. Attending these cultural events is a great way to learn more about the local culture, a great way to meet new people, a great way to support a local event and the community as a whole and it’s lots of fun! So, my fellow Cape Bretoners, next year, get out there and support some homegrown talent and a world-renowned and internationally acclaimed festival that takes place in your own backyard. People from all over the world come to Cape Breton specifically for this festival every year so its about time us locals start seeing what all the fuss is about. And if you think Celtic Colours is just for “boring old people”, I suggest you spend an evening at the Festival Club that takes place every evening during the festival at the Gaelic College in St. Anne’s….I didn’t get a chance to get out there yet but I hear it’s quite the time!
*Next I will tell you about another fantastic festival event I attended, a guided hike of the Acadian hiking trail in Cheticamp.

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