Kilt Skaters brave the big freeze to celebrate Scottish-Canadian heritage

Kilt Skaters in the snow in Ottawa. Picture: John Theoret
Kilt Skaters in the snow in Ottawa. Picture: John Theoret
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Thousands of Canadians are to brave daunting conditions as they don their kilts and take to the ice for an annual celebration of Scottish-Canadian heritage.

The “Great Canadian Kilt Skate”, which sees members of the Scottish community take to frozen waterways and ice rinks wearing kilts and tartan this month – began with a skate in Montreal yesterday, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 40 in recent weeks in one of the country’s coldest ever winters.

This is the fourth year the event has been held. It was first organised by Ottawa author Don Cummer as a way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the “father of Canadian Confederation”, Scottish-born Sir John A Macdonald.

Organiser and “skater-in-chief” Cummer, who shares an 11 January birthday with Macdonald, has embarked on a skating trip in his kilt every year to celebrate – and repeats the tradition on Burns Night.

He said: “The Scottish Society of Ottawa heard I was doing it and asked if I would make it into a bigger thing. It has grown every year, and more and more people take part in more and more events.”

He added: “Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate is indelibly Scottish and undeniably Canadian. It speaks to the Scottish contribution to Canada’s multicultural heritage, and in 2018, it will be bigger than ever.”

He urged Canadians with Scottish heritage to attend the events, which are to take place in six cities nationwide. He said: “Most of us will be wearing kilts, but people don’t have to. It’s great if they’re wearing some tartan, I like to say it’s Canada’s favourite colour.”

The flagship event in Ottawa will take place on Saturday, when hundreds of skaters are expected to turn out to the Lansdowne Park Skating Rink for the official launch of this year’s Kilt Skate event. A further four cities in addition to Montreal and Ottawa have already signed up to hold their own events and will vie for the title of “Kilt Skate Capital of Canada,” which was conferred last year on Montreal.

Born in Glasgow in 1815, Sir John A Macdonald emigrated with his family to Kingston, Ontario, when he was five years old. He was a driving force behind the unification of today’s Canada and held the position of Canadian prime minister for 18 years, the second longest term in Canadian history.

However, Macdonald has been a subject of controversy over his policies towards Indigenous Canadians. His residential schools took First Nations children away from their families.

Macdonald’s face is already scheduled to be replaced on the country’s $10 note by civil rights activist Viola Desmond as a result. Last week, a pub in the Canadian city of Kingston changed its name from “Sir John’s Public House” to “The Public House” after complaints.

Richard Knight, senior marketing manager at VisitScotland business events, said: “Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate is an excellent initiative, which brings communities together through the strong cultural links that exist between Canada and Scotland.”

Chris Maskell, Canada’s representative for the Scottish Government, which gave funding to the event, said: “The Great Canadian Kilt Skate is growing into a truly national celebration of what it means to be Scottish in Canada.”