St Anns

Each year, the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, presents a two-day festival at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in St Anns. This festival is the present day successor of the first Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling, held in 1973 in Glendale. Quoting from the Association’s history web page:

“In February, 1972, a CBC documentary entitled The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler was produced by Ron MacInnis. The premise of this film was [that] the traditional Cape Breton violin music was in a state of decline, and that it would soon disappear entirely! Reaction to this documentary was swift and disbelieving. The most notable achievement of the film was that it shook Cape Bretoners out of their complacency, and it made them aware of that, quite possibly, the Cape Breton Fiddle was facing extinction.

“Father John Angus Rankin was one of the key people who vowed that this would never happen! A group composed of Frank MacInnis, Father Eugene Morris, Burton MacIntyre, Archie Neil Chisholm, Father John Angus Rankin, Rod Chisholm, Judge Hugh J. MacPherson, Anne Marie MacDonald, Jeannette Beaton, Joey Beaton, and Ray MacDonald met as a result of a letter sent out by Frank MacInnis. This group discussed the possibility of forming some kind of a fiddlers’ festival. This dedicated group of people decided to proceed with the concept; thus, the very seed of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association began. Because of the efforts of this determined group, the first Festival of Cape Breton Fiddling was held in Glendale in July 1973. Over one hundred and thirty proud Cape Breton fiddlers arrived in Glendale that weekend and gave one of the greatest concerts ever witnessed in Cape Breton. Several thousand people made up the audience.

“Preparation for the successful 1973 festival gave birth to the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, and its work continues today. The Association’s main mandate has been to preserve and promote traditional Cape Breton fiddle music. Since its inception, it has provided workshops and opportunities for its members to learn new tunes and techniques, it has published tunes written by its members, and it has provided venues for musicians to perform for thousands of people. It has nurtured and supported its members […]. Cape Breton fiddle music is alive and flourishing both on the Island and throughout the world; and the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association is proud to have played a significant role in this resurgence.”

The festival is held on the week-end containing the third Sunday in August; in 2009, the festival was held August 15-16:

Saturday’s canteen, in addition to the usual cold drinks, tea, and coffee, featured ice cream and fresh stawberry shortcake, delightful to have on a hot evening! On Sunday, the outdoor canteen offered barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, with soda, bottled water, chips, oat cakes, tea, coffee, and other goodies, allowing attendees to suppress the “hungries” during the concerts. CD’s, DVD’s, books, and other similar materials are also on sale during the concerts. Tickets on a 50/50 draw and a raffle for a sewn “Burton the Fiddler” doll were also sold. Staffed by volunteers, the proceeds from these activities help support the work of the Association.

The Youth Concert was held indoors in the Great Hall of the Clans; the Grand Concert was held outdoors in the Gaelic College’s beautiful natural amphitheatre. The weather was perfect on Sunday; indeed, Sunday’s sun was so bright the photos will reveal that many of the musicians sported sun glasses as a defence. The great weather led to a large and enthusiastic crowd on Sunday, reversing the poor attendance of the previous year.

The St Anns concerts are important as they provide a gauge of the health of the music, featuring, as they do, the upcoming youth players and many of Cape Breton’s best players. This concert revealed that the music is in very good shape, with lots of very talented youth coming up and the youth of a few years ago now taking their rightful rôle as sought-after, experienced performers of the music.

This year, the presence of two fiddling groups from outside Cape Breton attested to the importance of this concert in promoting Scottish traditional music:

Like so many on Cape Breton, this festival could not have been mounted without the commitment and perseverance of the many volunteers, whose support is crucial to this festival’s continued success. To the directors, stage managers, emcees, canteen crew, chaperones, those staffing the ticket tables, maintaining the membership lists, selling merchandise to raise funds for the Association, ferrying youth players to and from practice sessions and concerts, and carrying out the many other functions all year long that are necessary to make this festival the success it is year after year—to all of them we owe a huge vote of thanks and appreciation for their time, work, and dedication.

Concert Pictures

The pictures I took at the two concerts are available by clicking the concert of interest from the list at the left.