Calgary ready to take to the ice

Calgarians know how to put on a party, some of which have become legendary -- like the cowboys who celebrated the 1948 Grey Cup in Toronto by riding horses into the lobby of a downtown hotel (a tradition that persists).

Other Calgary bashes receive international attention -- such as the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.  

And then of course there's the annual cowboy festival, rodeo, and all-round good time, the Calgary Stampede.

Calgary's third annual kilt skate will be held this Sunday, February 12 at the Olympic Plaza from noon until 4 p.m.. Calgarians seem determined to wrest from Saskatoon the title of Kilt Skate Capital of Canada.

Calgary has strong Scottish roots. In 1876, Colonel James MacLeod, the first Commissioner of what was to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, named the recently-built police fort after a place on the Isle of Mull.

In 1883, Sir John A. Macdonald's Canadian Pacific Railway reached Calgary, and with it came more Scots. 

The following year, the St. Andrew's Caledonian Society was created -- the same year the city was incorporated.

The Scots, including my own ancestors, continued to pour into what would become the Province of Alberta.  Grandpa Murray, a stone mason, arrived in Edmonton to help construct the new legislature buildings in Edmonton. My mother moved to Calgary, which became my home town. My siblings and I were raised to share a great pride in our Scottish heritage.

So strong are Calgary's ties to the Auld Country that the first statue to a public figure to be erected in Calgary was not to Colonel MacLeod, or Chief Crowfoot, or James Lougheed, or R.B. Bennett, or John Ware or to any of the builders of this frontier city in the foothills. It was to Robert the Bruce!

Combine a city that likes to throw a party with a city proud of a strong Scottish tradition and you have the perfect combination for Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate. The Optimist Clubs of Calgary and High River hosted the first two kilt skates in 2015 (Sir John A's bicentennial) and 2016. 

They began the tradition of an outdoor event at Olympic Plaza, with complementary birthday cake and hot chocolate -- and getting out onto the ice no matter how cold the weather!

When the St. Andrews Caledonia Society assumed leadership of the kilt skate this year, they added a strong entertainment component to Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate. The St. Andrews Caledonian Gaelic Choir will perform “O Canada” in English and Gaelic, as well as some Scottish ballads. 

Weather permitting, the St. Andrew Caledonian Pipers will play; and the Spring Bank Highland Dancers will dance.

At 1 p.m., the birthday cake to celebrate Sir John A. Macdonald's 202nd and Canada's 150th birthdays will be cut by none other than the Calgary Flames' NHL mascot, Harvey the Hound. For more information on events, visit

"The St. Andrews Caledonian Society has maintained Scottish traditions in Calgary for over 130 years," says David Aftergood, the event's organizer.  "We’re delighted to take up and promote the new tradition of kilt skating.”

The Scottish Government has supported the Calgary skate and skates in five other Canadian cities. "More than five million Canadians trace their ancestry to Scotland,” says Chris Maskell, who represents the Scottish Government. “We're incredibly proud of that Scottish heritage, and we want to celebrate the enormous contribution that Scots and those of Scottish decent have made here in Canada -- perhaps none more so than Sir John A. Macdonald."

The Scottish government is keen to help the Scottish Canadian community maintain its connections to Scotland.  “This year marks the 150th birthday of Canada, but it also Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology,” says Maskell. “There’s never been a better time to come and visit Scotland.”

Come on down to the Olympic Plaza between noon and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Wear your kilts or wear your tartans. Come if you're Scottish, or come if you want to be Scottish just for one day. Come with a spirit of Scottish fortitude, and let's celebrate Sir John A. with bare knees and ice!