Caledonian Club of P.E.I. marks 150th anniversary with gala dinner

Mary MacKay
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The Caledonian Club of P.E.I.’s Scottish Gala Banquet on Saturday, May 10, at the Confederation Centre of the Arts’ Memorial Hall in Charlottetown as part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations will include a parade of tartans. Shown here is club president Eleanor Boswell, left, in a district tartan, Cecil MacPhail in a MacPhail red, Darlene Compton in a hunting MacRae, Douglas MacKenzie in a dress MacKenzie and Roddie MacLean in a MacLean modern hunting tartan.

It’s tartan time as the Caledonian Club of Prince Edward Island celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2014.

And there is sure to be a really big show of clan threads at the celebratory Scottish Gala Banquet on Saturday, May 10, at Confederation Centre of the Arts’ Memorial Hall in Charlottetown.

“The main idea of our club is to maintain and promote the customs that our forefathers brought from Scotland, and that’s what we’re still trying to do with our programs,” says Caledonian Club Chief Cecil MacPhail.

P.E.I.’s first Scottish society formed in 1837 almost 70 years after the first wave of immigration, Susan Hornby wrote in her book, Celts and Ceilidhs: A History of Scottish Societies on Prince Edward Island.

On May 9, 1864, the organization adopted a new policy, a more formal constitution and a new name, The Caledonian Club of Prince Edward Island, the aim of which was to promote Scottish heritage and ensure the survival of Scottish fellowship on the Island.

This, of course, was the same year the Charlottetown Conference was held in Charlottetown, during which representatives from the colonies of British North America met to discuss Canadian Confederation.

“(That same year) the premier of the province, John Hamilton Gray (and Father of Confederation), was nominated to be (club) president and the Lt.-Gov. George Dundas became the chief of the club in 1864,” says club member Roddie MacLean.

“So there are two very prominent people on Prince Edward Island who were actually involved with the Charlottetown Conference because leading up to the Charlottetown Conference they had the Maritime Union, which Gray wasn’t in favour of at all. But he did get that passed through the House of Assembly that there would be a Charlottetown Conference and that led up to Confederation,

“So (in 2014) we can actually celebrate not only the Charlottetown Conference but the 150th year of the Caledonian Club.”

In addition to the Scottish Gala Banquet on May 10, there will be special events throughout the year to mark the Caledonian Club’s sesquicentennial of promoting Scottish culture and Island traditions.

One is the P.E.I. Highland Games and Scottish Festival, which is also marking its 150th year. This two-day extravaganza, on Aug. 2-3 at the Lord Selkirk Provincial Park in Eldon, includes Scottish-related athletic competitions of all levels, kids activities, music, sheepherding, spinning demos and much more.

The Belfast Highland Greens also sponsors a kilted classic golf tournament, and there is a kilted pace at the Pinette Raceway.

“So in other words if you are a driver you have to have a kilt on,” MacLean explains.

“But that’s only one part of it. The Highland dancing competition goes on all day the first day and a step-dancing competition takes place the second day,” adds club member John Bryanton.

“The Highland dancers come from all over the Maritimes and even some from down on eastern seaboard of the United States. They’ll register almost six to eight months ahead of time to come to this event,” MacKenzie says of this sanctioned event.

There will be music and more at next Saturday’s celebratory Scottish Gala Banquet at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

The Singing Strings Orchestra will perform a medley of Scottish tunes throughout the evening, and the head table guests will be piped in by members of the Belfast Pipe and Drum Band.

There will also be a Show of Tartans, with an introduction of the models and a commentary provided on each of the tartans, along with a special fiddle performance by well-known musician, folklorist and historian Jim Hornby.

“Jim Hornby, who is a member of the Caledonian Club, found a piece of music when he was in Scotland, a Scotch march (entitled The Charlottetown Caledonian Club),” says club president Eleanor Boswell.

The piece was translated from a Gaelic version by the staff at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, N.S.

“So we’re going to have him do that (during the gala), which is very appropriate for the 150th,” Boswell says.

The Confederation Players will lend their talents to create an ambiance of the discussions that transpired on May 9, 1864, to establish the new club, which is now the oldest Scottish organization on P.E.I.

“Four of the Confederation Players will be there to mingle with the people during the reception in costume: John Hamilton Gray and his wife, Margaret, and George Dundas and his wife, Mary. They will be in (character for that) era,” MacLean says.

Karen Hatcher, executive director of the College of Piping, Summerside, will also speak about the college and the celebration of its 25th anniversary, the significance of Celtic performing arts and how the college and Caledonian Club of P.E.I. are keeping Scottish culture alive and well on the Island.

Even the gala’s door prize is a testament to the links to the homeland.

“Back in 1864 it wasn’t dollars and cents that they used, it was pounds and shillings, so as a door prize at the banquet we’re going to have a door prize for 150 Scottish pounds, which is one for every year (of the club’s existence). And the bills are actually from the Bank of Scotland,” says Bryanton.

“It’s probably worth close to $300 in Canadian money and Cecil says it’s probably the first time that you can get a Scottish fellow giving away money.”

AT A GLANCE

If you go

What: Caledonian Club of Prince Edward Island’s Scottish Gala Banquet being held as part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

When: Saturday, May 10, starting with a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Confederation Centre of the Arts’ Memorial Hall in Charlottetown.

Entertainment will be provided by the Singing Strings Orchestra, the Belfast Pipe and Drum Band, the Confederation Players (who will be in 1864 character), a special fiddle performance by Charlottetown lawyer Jim Hornby and more.

Dinner will be a choice of roast beef or salmon as the main course, including trimmings, beverages and dessert. A cash bar will be available.

The cost per ticket is $50. Tickets are available from club members. For more information or tickets, contact Cecil MacPhail, 892-2181, or Eleanor Boswell, 368-7378. Also, club memberships will be available at a cost of $15 or by contacting Douglas MacNevin, 675-2868.

Organizations: The Caledonian Club of Prince Edward Island, College of Piping, Confederation Centre Scottish society Scottish Societies on Prince Edward Island.On Confederation Players Maritime Union Arts.The Singing Strings Orchestra St. Francis Xavier University Scottish organization Bank of Scotland

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Scotland, British North America Prince Edward Island Selkirk Provincial Park Eldon United States Antigonish Charlottetown.Entertainment

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