Volume 41, Number 7, January 2018
For the fourth straight year, skaters across Canada will be taking to outdoor rinks in a unique celebration of Scottish heritage: the annual Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate. What began years ago as a private house party to celebrate a birthday has grown into a friendly, cross-country rivalry for the title of Kilt Skate Capital of Canada.
Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 saw kilt skates held in seven cities across the country, with Montreal taking the Kilt Skate Capital honours. On a cold winter day, the city’s St. Andrew’s Society was able to draw out the local Highland dance societies and curling clubs to join in the birthday party for Sir John A. Macdonald, the architect of Canada’s confederation and its first Prime Minister.
Anyone showing up at the Natrel Skating Rink in the city’s Old Port had their admission fees paid for by the St. Andrew’s Society. Everyone – tartaned, kilted or not – was invited to enjoy birthday cake.
Montreal wrested the Kilt Skate Capital title from Saskatoon which, the previous year, had coordinated its kilt skate with the city’s initiative to set the Guinness world record for the World’s Largest Snowball Fight.
Calgary was also a strong contender for Kilt Skate Capital. Skaters gathered at the Olympic Plaza where they were entertained by pipers, Highland dancers, and a choir which sang “O Canada” in both English and Gaelic.
Toronto held its first kilt skate in 2017 at the popular Nathan Phillips Square in the heart of downtown. Its opening ceremonies included Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, who brought special greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The home of the original kilt skate, Ottawa once again attracted enthusiastic crowds. The original plans were to hold the event on the Rideau Canal Skateway – the world’s largest skating rink. However, unseasonably warm temperatures forced the organizers to move the event to the Lansdowne Skating Park. That didn’t prevent more than a hundred kilted skaters from enjoying a perfect day for winter fun, with the snowflakes gently falling.
Warm weather forced the cancellation of the kilt skate in Winnipeg, where it had been scheduled on a large duck pond. Back in 2015, however, Winnipeg’s inaugural kilt skate brought together perhaps the hardiest skaters in the country. They gathered at The Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers at The Forks in temperatures that dropped to minus 35 degrees Celsius, with a wind chill on top of that. That year, many of the Winnipeg skaters displayed bare knees. Were they skating “regimental?” No one is saying.
Each of these kilt skates had been coordinated and organized as a part of a national event by the Scottish Society of Ottawa. The SSO provided communications support, channeled sponsorship funding, and created and forwarded design templates for promotional material. In the meantime, the news about the kilt skate phenomenon spread to other communities, including Lloydminster, which hosted its own event, bringing the total in 2017 to seven cities.
Most are planning kilt skates for January and February 2018, and the national organizers are enlisting other cities interested in joining this growing phenomenon. The Scottish Government has provided sponsorship funds for organizations to purchase cake and hot chocolate, hire entertainment and photographers, and buy insurance and ice time (if required).
This year, the kilt skates will highlight Scotland’s “Year of Young People” – an opportunity for the host organizations to reach out to clubs and societies that bring a youth element to the events. Expect to see hockey and ringuette teams out in force, wearing tartan.
The kilt skates are indelibly Scottish and undeniably Canadian – a great way to celebrate Scotland’s contribution to Canada’s multicultural heritage. Some five million Canadians trace their ancestry back to Scotland – which is close to the population of Scotland itself.
But Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate is not just for those who can boast Scottish heritage. It’s a time for everyone to nurture their inner Scot. They don’t have to be Scottish. They don’t have to wear a kilt. They just come join the party with a Scottish spirit of fun and fortitude, and wear Canada’s favourite colour – tartan!
For more information on Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt skate, or to contact the national organizers, go to www.kiltskate.com. Or follow #kiltskate2018.
by Don Cummer, Skater-in-Chief