During my trip to Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the Highland Games, I was invited to an amazing performance that was produced by a local theater group. They stage a new show each year during the Games, and they’re amazing.
This year’s show was entitled, Bochans and a Birthday and was a fictional musical based on local history. There was singing, dancing, and lots of laughs as the performers brought you back to a night in the life of early settlers in this area of Nova Scotia.
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A Behind-the-Scenes Tour
I was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour prior to the show where I had the chance to meet the performers of Bochans and a Birthday. You can get a peek of my tour along with some clips from the performance below. In total there were 20 songs in the production and I was very impressed that they were all original songs written just for this show!
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Look out for the next performance from The Society for the Ships of 1801 during your trip to the Highland Games in Antigonish. They always sell out, so get your tickets as soon as they are available. A special thank you to one of the show’s performers and its director, Carole Anne MacKenzie, for getting me a ticket to this sold-out show and for arranging the VIP experience!
Attending My First Highland Games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia
The morning of the first full day of the Antigonish Highland Games begins with a parade down Main Street to the event, so follow the bagpipes and floats if you’re unsure of where to go. Sun protection is always important, and definitely not something to forget during the Games. Not much shade is available at the games, so be sure to bring a hat and lots of sunscreen and stay hydrated!
While we were excited to see all the events that involved throwing and lifting heavy stones, hammers, etc., challenges that one has to assume were invented after many drams of Scotch, there was one event that was clearly the fan favorite. The caber toss was what everyone wanted to see, and for a moment a chant of, “We want logs!” even started in the stands as eager fans were frustrated that the event was running behind schedule.
For the uninitiated, the caber toss is a traditional Scottish athletic event in which competitors toss a large tapered pole called a caber. Basically, you’re throwing a 16-20 foot tree that weighs between 90-150 pounds. I’m still not completely sure how the caber toss scoring system works, but I really didn’t need to know in order to enjoy it.
Every event at the games carries some risk of injury for the competitors. While every precaution is taken to keep everyone safe, in the caber toss I feel we have more unpredictable variables than any other event as it’s often not easy to control the trajectory of a falling tree. Audience members have nothing to worry about if you stay in the designated seating areas. However, if, like me, you want to get as close to the action as you can, I highly recommend staying alert to unexpected logs that may appear over your head. As with the mirrors on your car, objects are closer than they appear.
I’ve always enjoyed a good tug-of-war, and this was the first time I’ve witnessed a professional competition. Watching all the strategy and techniques that were used by the competitors only reinforced what I already knew about my own experience with a tug-of-war; my friends and I had no idea what we were doing. Visit our Instagram page to view some of the tug-of-war mastery that I witnessed.
If feats of strength aren’t your thing, you can still enjoy the artistic side of the Games by taking in the Highland dance and bagpipe competitions. There is a retail area for those who would like to indulge in some Scottish-themed shopping, and food and beverages are available to recharge you throughout the day. In the evenings, the beer tent becomes the focal point of the festivities, offering adult beverages and musical performances late into the night.
Connecting with the History of Antigonish, Nova Scotia
I had an unexpectedly emotional moment at the Antigonish Heritage Museum when I stumbled upon an antique fire engine from 1864. I’ve always been fascinated by fire engines and this unique encounter brought tears to my inner five-year-old self. Even if you haven’t secretly wanted to be a firefighter your whole life, I’d still recommend a visit to the museum. They have done an amazing job of preserving and telling the history of the area.
The museum is housed in an old train station which is a wonderful stage to display the history of Antigonish. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and I recommend asking them for a guided tour. They will be happy to tell you about all the stories that they weren’t able to add to the description cards. There is no preset admission price, so donate whatever you can to support the important work that they do.
Don’t Miss the Beaches
The beaches around Antigonish, Nova Scotia were highly recommended, so I carved out some time between caber tosses to visit Pomquet Beach. This beach was beautiful, but that’s not what almost brought a second tear to my eye during this visit. I saw something there that I’ve never seen at any other beach in the world. There was a specially designed carpet that rolled out from the boardwalk onto the beach to make it more accessible.
Beaches are places that have been horribly neglected when it comes to accessibility, and while this carpet doesn’t solve all the accessibility challenges, it’s a good start to allow those in wheelchairs to more easily spend time at the beach. Brilliant!
Magic in Nova Scotia
Lighthouses are magical things. Sitting atop massive cliffs with expansive views, the Cape George Point Lighthouse is one of the best, unknown lighthouses in Nova Scotia. That’s probably why I was compelled to perform a magic trick when I visited. The lighthouse and its surrounding area are majestic, so be sure to swing by even if you aren’t looking to perform magic.
Sitting in the Northumberland Shore region overlooking the waters of St. George’s Bay, you can see Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island on a clear day. On the day I visited, I couldn’t see either island, but I did become the first person to perform a magic trick there by walking through the base of the Cape George Lighthouse. Someone inform the Guinness Book people! You can see and review my performance on Instagram.
Getting Inspired by the Locals
I was fortunate to meet many inspiring people who are working hard to give back to this amazing and vibrant community, and I’d like to tell you about a few of them.
Harry and I chatted while we were waiting for our orders at a food truck and that’s how I found out that he was a retired power generation professional from Ontario who is now bringing his expertise to solar projects in the Antigonish, Nova Scotia area.
Three years ago, Harry joined a solar farm project in the nearby town of St. Andrews to produce zero-carbon energy for its school, church, curling club, community center, and seniors’ complex, with the hope that they will be able to leverage the know-how from this project to promote zero-carbon energy initiatives in the surrounding communities. The project is going strong and they have so far been able to supplement three of the five properties with solar power.
Oysters? I Love Oysters!
I was introduced to Rachel and Ted from Town Point Oysters by one of my bartenders in Antigonish. I’ve never been to an oyster farm before, so I jumped at their generous invitation for a tour.
They are now in the final stage of approvals for their oyster nursery and farm. It’s taken three years to get here, but that hasn’t diminished their passion for this project. I learned about the benefits that oysters provide by purifying the water in their environments, how this project will help replenish the struggling native species of oysters already in the bay, and the in-house innovations that will allow them to mechanically harvest the oysters on their farm (harvesting is currently a manual, labor-intensive activity) and increase efficiency.
Their farm and nursery is completely powered by renewable energy, via on-site solar panels and batteries, and they’ve already reached out to local businesses to discuss partnerships to create jobs and opportunities for the local community.
As if I wasn’t already impressed with the dozens of genuinely nice and brilliant people who made my visit to Nova Scotia unbelievable, I’m humbled to have met so many great people who have inspired me through their love for their community. I wish I could have told you about them all, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve been able to share.
Visiting Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Before I end the story of my fantastic adventure in Nova Scotia, I’ll leave you with these final tips about visiting Antigonish.
- The only Starbucks in the area is located on the Campus of St. Francis Xavier University.
- There’s a Farmers’ Market that has taken place every Saturday since 1993 with over 50 vendors offering local delicacies and crafts.
- The most popular slice of pizza in town is served at The Wheel Pizza and Sub Shop.
- If you like craft beer, they are doing some great things at Candid Brewing and Burnside Brewing.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals.
You might also enjoy my first post about this trip: Halifax to Antigonish: Street Parties, Chocolate & the Most Friendly People.
Thank you to Tourism Nova Scotia for sponsoring my trip to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. All experiences and impressions are my own, and Solo Traveler maintains complete editorial control over all content.