Mike Chisholm has dreamed of this moment for 16 months.
Ever since the pandemic hit last spring and subsequently shut down gatherings, the executive director of ScotFestBC: The British Columbia Highland Games has been working behind the scenes to ready for B.C.’s reopening.
He lined up suppliers, vendors and performers in anticipation of Dr. Bonnie Henry and the city of Coquitlam easing restrictions this summer.
Now, with Stage 3 in full swing, Chisholm is raring to put his program into action and offer the public one of the first ticketed events of 2021.
Chisholm said the public’s hunger to party is high, and musicians and dancers are excited to get back to entertain at Town Centre Park.
“These Games are an opportunity to motivate so many groups in the Scottish community,” he told the Tri-City News on July 15. “It gives them a chance to pick up their instrument or dancing slippers and get out again.”
His program begins on Friday, Sept. 3 with a registered 5-km Tartan Run around the park followed by the all-star “Pipers in the Park,” a free showcase that features four world-class piping legends: Dr. Jack Lee, Alan Bevan, Alastair Lee and Zephan Knichel of the Grade 1 Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.
The piobaireachd (pronounced “pi-broch”) will be emceed by Shaunna Hilder, a Port Coquitlam piper who’s now with an SFUPB rival: ScottishPower.
While that’s happening on the TD Community Stage, Macaloney Distillery will run a whisky and oyster tasting for 60 paid guests while an 8,000-sq. ft. tent — with an open liquor licence — and a stage will be set up next door.
On Saturday, Sept. 4, ScotFest will run all day, with the gate entry at $20 for adults, $15 for seniors/students, and $5 for kids ages six to 12.
Starting at 9 a.m., the BC Pipers Association will run its solo piping competition at the same time as the Heavy Events Provincial All-Stars Invitational.
Cultural workshops begin an hour later, featuring presentations by Dr. Leith Davis of SFU’s Scottish Studies (Jacobites); Fiona Smith (Gaelic); and Lew Ross (history of the BC Highland Games), among others, and kids activities.
The sea of sound will rise between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when Celtic artists Jocelyn Pettit Band, Blackthorn, Shot of Scotch, the Heather Jolley Highland Dancers, Strictly Scottish and Nova Scotia’s Robyn Carrigan take to the TD Community Plaza stage while the pipe bands rev up at 1 p.m., on the east side of the amphitheatre.
Asked about the clash of onsite senses, Chisholm shrugged. “Welcome to the Highland Games!” he said.
Still, there won’t be any Highland dance contests this year, due to a ruling by Scottish Dance Canada; however, the whisky school will return as will the British car display. The 78th Fraser Highlanders (Fort Fraser Garrison) will also fire a canon salute for the noon opening with Tri-City dignitaries.
And for visitors arriving on two wheels — rather than hopping off by foot at the Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain station, and walking east for 10 minutes — there’s a free bike valet. Food trucks will be stationed in the northern parking lot and Rocky Point Ice Cream will be open at The Hub (green building).
Operated by the non-profit group United Scottish Cultural Society (USCS), ScotFestBC 2021 will be a fenced-in outdoor festival with no limit to the number of people attending. “There’s plenty of space here to move around,” he said while scanning the amphitheatre and lawns further east of Lafarge Lake.
Chisholm said he’s grateful to the city for its $85,000 grant to ensure the event happened; in past years, ScotFestBC has drawn more than 10,000 to the park, and generated economic spin-offs for the hospitality industry with competitors travelling in from around B.C. and Washington State.
“That [city] funding crucial for us,” Chisholm said. “The USCS is a non-profit and, after last year, we’re not in a good financial position.”
“This event is our lifeline,” Chisholm said, “and everyone is happy to get back at it.”
The city’s tourism manager couldn’t agree more, saying he’s also pleased to ramp up local attractions after nearly a year-and-a-half hiatus.
“ScotFestBC is summer tradition in Coquitlam for local residents and visitors, and has been deeply missed,” Eric Kalnins told the Tri-City News.
“In-person events such as ScotFest BC are an important part of a community’s mix of things to see and do, and help to define what a community is all about.”
Kalnins added, “As events were cancelled, people realized how much a part of the community live events really are. They provide the platform to meet new people, to spend time with family and friends and to learn about different cultures.”
“Live events are also a much-needed economic driver for local businesses and help to increase awareness of Coquitlam as a great place to live and visit,” he said.
“There is definitely pent-up demand to experience live events, and it is great to see ScotFestBC return to Coquitlam in 2021.”
• To purchase online tickets to ScotFestBC or to volunteer, visit scotfestbc.com. Helpers for four-hour shifts will receive a meal and a T-shirt.