News Local

Sun shines on Scottish Festival

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Approximately 5,000 people were at least a little Scottish this weekend.

The 40th annual Orillia Scottish Festival took over the Orillia downtown and waterfront once again, as the thousands flocked to celebrate bagpipes, sheep shearing and all things Scottish.

Organizer Chuck Penny hasn't been around for the entire duration of the festival, but has been part of the group putting on the event for more than 25 years. The atmosphere may have changed over the years, but its popularity just keeps growing.

“All the reasons it was established are still here: a good venue, beautiful facility, lots of fun,” Penny said.

The weekend has grown to include performances from the 48th Highlanders and an interactive children's area to remind the next generation of festival organizers of the importance of their Scottish heritage.

But one of the most spectacular sites to see each year is parade of bands down Mississaga Street to Couchiching Beach Park, culminating with the mass performance.

This was the first Scottish festival for Ben Bogdin, a drummer with Innisfil Pipes and Drums. The high school student from Bradford joined the band through cadets, wanting to practice his skills and experience both Scottish tradition and camaraderie.

“It's amazing,” he said of the Orillia festival. “It's something that's really interesting.”

Peggy Pierce of the Uxbridge Legion Pipes and Drums has been doing this longer than both Bogdin and the Orillia festival have been alive.

For 50 years she's been playing the bagpipes in the band. If you had any inclination that the bagpipes are an easy instrument to play, Pierce is quick to correct the record.

“It's not easy,” she said. “You start on the practice chanter and then you go to the pipes and that's like starting another instrument again. To get all the things co-ordinated you need to play a full set of pipes, you can't pick up and play. You have to build up to it.”

When the band formed in 1967, she picked up the bagpipes for the first time. She was first introduced to the music and tradition through her Scottish grandparents. She is now the final charter member of the band to still actively perform.

Jenna Schitk has also been taking part in the Scottish performing arts most of her life as well. At six years old, she took up Scottish dancing. On Saturday, she was swaying and moving with the music as one of the thousands of spectators in the park. She continues to come out to the festival because her beginnings as a Scottish dancer started her on path that took her around the world.

“I've been a dancer all my life,” she said. “I was a Scottish dancer, then I learned how be a ballet dancer when I was older. I flew to Europe and started doing all the different dancing and everything.”

Penny mentioned that near the time he first started volunteering, seeing the festival to 25 years was a goal of organizers. Now, a decade removed from its golden anniversary, reaching 50 years is not only a goal, but also likely. That's thanks in part to an influx of volunteers in the past few years. As recently as five years ago, the festival was in serious jeopardy do to lack of support.

“When I first involved, I only had one job to do. Then you got more jobs and less people,” Penny explained. “Now we're back to one job and more people. We have a bigger committee, a solid committee.”

The festival brings enjoyment to both the organizers and the city as a whole, which make the experience entirely worthwhile.

“It sound crazy, but it's fun,” Penny said. “When you come down that main street and see the City of Orillia turn out like they do, you know you gotta keep doing it.”


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