In 1986 Spruce Meadows initiated its Festival of Nations in conjunction with the Masters show jumping event in September. This Festival included exhibits celebration the nations involved in the show jumping competitions. We were invited to participate as Irish representatives. Our members hosted a display booth in the Festival of Nations precinct, the dance schools provided costumed dancers to walk in a parade and dance on stage. The weekend was wet and cold. Betty Pettigrew remembers parents carrying the young dancers across the grass to avoid getting their shoes muddy. At times there were more performers on stage than spectators in the audience. Despite miserable weather conditions the volunteers prevailed to enjoy the occasion and launch what would become a key event in the ICS calendar.
Betty Pettigrew, Marie Bakay, Ann McCullagh and Mary Kane have fun at the Irish Booth, 1986
In 1987 more space and attractive booths with outdoor furniture were provided for the event. More importantly, the Festival area was paved throughout to minimize weather and underfoot problems. Paddy Slater organized our volunteers. In his subsequent Newsletter report Paddy marvelled on the success of the event, observing that we would never have attracted so many curious visitors had it not been for the culinary delights prepared by all our Irish stew chefs. Paddy’s summary acknowledged that it couldn’t have happened without the volunteers: the indefatigable Tom and Ann Casey, Eilis Foley like the proverbial Coleen Bawn; Brian, Audrey and Haley Evans making it a family affair; Niall Moriarty telling tall stories; Barbara Connolly and Susan McMahon minding both babies and booth; John Connolly and Sean Hayes plamasing all visitors (especially those of the female persuasion); Bob Foster looking that he just walked off a pin-up poster; Brian Taylor and Gerry Foley slapping butter on bread as they weren’t paying for it; Theresa McComish paying a surprise but welcome visit. Paddy noted the thanks due to Ed Milligan and son Brian of Summit Signs for preparing an attractive display sign for the Irish Cultural Society; to O’Sheas Market Ireland and Emerald Isle Imports for displays; and Irwin, Regent and Pettigrew Irish Dance Schools, and Comhaltas Ceoltoiti musicians for providing live entertainment.
The Spruce Meadows Masters became a four-day gathering for many members making new acquaintances and catching up with friends. Such events were important in developing a camaraderie and a sense of cohesion in the ICS.
Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Musicians. Sean McComish, Ken Persson, John Houston, Gail O’Neill, Rory Clancy, Denis O’Brien, and Bobby Skillen (1987)
Irish Dancers performing at Spruce Meadows Festival of Nations