On Top of the World at the Top of the World

If you’ve ever wanted to toss a log or throw a 20-pound rock to win a prize, then the Top of the World Highland Games and Celtic Festival in Dawson City is for you.

Taking place from June 9 to 12, the games are a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture. The festival includes bagpipes, athletic events and even a kilt or two.

Long-time local Sally Derry is the president of the Top of the World Highland Games Association. She, along with six other people on the board, organize the Games every two years.

Derry says it was her brother, who was visiting Dawson a few years ago, who first came up with the idea.

“He used to be a hammer thrower on the Canadian National team,” she says. “When athletes in that type of sport become too old to compete, they usually head over to highland games. He suggested Dawson would be a great place for that kind of event.”

Derry jumped on the idea. She says she had been wanting to organize something different and unique for her community.

“There was this one weekend in June where nothing was going on,” she says.

“I decided I was going to fill that weekend.”

With her brother’s many contacts and some interested volunteers, the Dawson highland games were born.

Initially, the plan was to hold only athletic, or “heavy” events, such as the caber toss or stone throw, but one of the board members was very interested in pipe bands.

“It ended up with both bands and athletes competing,” Derry says. “That changed it from a one-day event to a festival.”

The first festival in 2012 was a success, with about 22 people participating in the heavy events. Another festival followed two years later.

This year’s kick off celebrations will start on Friday night at the gazebo on Front Street with pipers, dancers and a welcoming by the First Peoples of Dawson City, the Han Singers. Around 10 p.m. that evening, massed bands will be performing a free concert on the Midnight Dome.

Saturday is when the competition starts.

“It’s all amateurs this year,” Derry says. The association encourages everyone who is participating to take the Heavy Events Clinic on Thursday, with guest coaches Rob Young, who is the Professional Canadian Champion, and Karyn Dallimore, the Women’s Amateur World Champion.

Saturday night is the traditional ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee), only this year, things are a bit different. The association will be co-running the event with the Commissioner’s Ball, a popular event in Dawson, which happens to be taking place on the same weekend.

“The commissioner has a Scottish background and is quite excited to co-host,” Derry says. “It will be something new and different. He’s already ordered a kilt sporting his family tartan.”

Derry is also excited about this year’s fundraiser, being held during the Games.

“We have a fun one this year,” she says. “It’s called the Flying Scotsman.”

Weather permitting, local paraglider Jeremy Lancaster will jump off the Midnight Dome wearing a kilt and carrying a haggis. He will then drop the haggis over a sea of plates purchased and placed near the landing site by hopeful winners. Whoever’s plate the haggis lands on or is closest to, is the winner, taking home 50 per cent of the pot.

Originally, Derry worried about whether the games in Dawson were done in the right way. But she soon learned that every community that holds highland games puts their own twist on them.

“Dawson awards gold nuggets for the athletes who win,” she says. “That’s our twist.”

For more information on the Games, or to register for the clinic go to www.TopoftheWorldHighlandGames.ca or their Facebook page

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