A tartan parade kicks off festivities a full week before Victoria athlete Alex McAra and his peers battle on the green fields of Topaz Park for the annual 160th Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival.
“It really just starts setting the scene,” McAra said, looking forward to the parade of pipe bands, Highland dancers, and heavy event athletes. The May 13 parade departs Centennial Square at 11 a.m. and works its way down Government Street to Belleville Street and on to the legislature. Usually there’s a ceremony, nixed by ongoing construction this year.
It’s just the first in many spectacles – from the sporting competition to the food and music – in the longest continually running Highland games in North America.
McAra started the sport at 16 or 17 and the first year did one event, the second he did two and the third year scored an invite to nationals. He never looked back.
Last year was his first in the professional class, kicking it off with the 2022 Victoria Highland Games. McAra finished the year with a national third-place finish under his belt and ranked No. 2 with the Canadian Scottish Athletic Federation. He has also earned an invitation to compete at the professional heavy events world championships later this year in Fergus, Ont.
Right now though, he’s gearing up for the two days of competition and fun on home turf.
While it’s a commitment and hard work – he currently trains five or six days a week – McAra is aware people are drawn by the unusual nature of the competition.
“Some of it is a spectacle. Where else do you get to see people throw trees?” McAra said.
In heavy events, athletes fling and toss a variety of items: with two hammer events, two weights, two stones, weight over bar and caber – a section of a tree that tapers from one end to the other.
One of the pleasures of the Victoria event, from a spectator perspective, is the elite athletes compete both days. This year Greater Victoria is represented by six men and six women – competing for equal prizes.
The Victoria Highland Games is a family-focused weekend of Scottish and Celtic arts and culture including pipe band competitions, dancing competitions and performances, heavy events, fiddling performances, Scottish/Celtic, folk and fiddle performances, genealogy booths and displays, historic military demonstrations and displays, Scottish/Celtic food and merchandise vendors.
The games host a Saturday evening musical extravaganza in partnership with the Victoria Military Music Festival Society. The highlight is the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, USMC, from San Diego. In addition, the Royal Canadian Navy Naden Band, Scottish regiment pipe bands, and professional drum majors will perform.
“This place is loved as a place to come and see and throw. To have it as a home games is pretty special,” McAra said.
The festival fills Topaz Park on May 20 and 21. Visit victoriahighlandgames.com for the full competition and music schedule as well as a list of vendors.