The Beach Celtic Festival Toronto’s Only Outdoor Ceilidh

Cover Aug 17, 2012

Submitted by Graham Sutherland

The Beach Celtic Festival is Toronto’s only outdoor, live ceilidh, pronounced kay-lee.

In modern usage, a ceilidh is a traditional Gaelic social gathering, which usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing. It originated in Ireland and Scotland, but is now common throughout the Irish and Scottish diasporas.

For over eight years, long time Beach resident and entertainment entrepreneur Sandy Graham has organized and promoted The Beach Celtic Festival. “Before our mum passed away she said ‘when I pass on don’t mourn me, celebrate my life.” And I thought what better way than a Scottish gathering with music and dancing.”  And so in 2004 Graham decided to have a little ceilidh in the park in her area and 1500 people showed up!

Kew Gardens is a beautiful setting in the laid back Beach area in the east end of Toronto, backing on to the lake and the famous boardwalk. Every summer the world famous Beaches International Jazz Festival turns the pastoral park into an outdoor haven of live music and vendors of food and cool things. One month later, The Beach Celtic Festival picks up where the Jazz Fest leaves off.

The lineup of talent and vendors this year is exciting and entertaining. Pipe bands, singers, dancers and homemade jewelry, crafts, a few Clan Chiefs on hand to tell you the history of names and you can have a wee visit with our tarot card reader who will give you her ‘touch of the fey.’  There is a gaelic language school on site, and real shortbread.  Even our food vendor is a MacDonald!  “Most of the vendors, of which there are 35 or so, have been with us since year one” Graham noted. “It’s like a big family gathering with everyone saying hello to old acquaintances and greeting any new vendors with a warm ‘Welcome to the Beach Clan.’ We have tried to make sure our vendors all have some sort of Celtic connection. It is really important that we stay authentic. The vendors have told me this event is like a closing ceremony to their summer festival season, after all the Highland Games in and around Ontario.” Graham added.

The talent line up is an amazing array of performers as always this year. Starting with the world class Toronto Black Watch Pipes and Drums (Sandy’s grandfather Donald Sutherland was the Pipe Major the Black Watch in Montreal)  and the opening ceremonies are graced by The Scarborough Pipes and Drums. Piper Rory Sinclair will be piping his way into your hearts. Another Beacher Megan Bold is part of our tradition with her Bold Step Dancers who do traditional highland and excel at Ottawa Valley step dancing. Our Perennial host, Irish media star and singer and comedian , Hugo Straney is back for another year of audience pleasing fun. Another mainstay of the dance shows are The Gilchrist- Canavan School of Irish Dancing. The Seasick Sailors sail in with their brand of electric celtic swagger and fun, featuring tunes you know and love and some original gems. Country singer Don Graham is also back with some country/celtic offerings, including a festival favourite “The Pipes and the Mist”,  a song written for his Mum, and also the great rousing singalong of “The Calling of the Clans.” The Ferriers are back with their renditions authentic brand of Celtic music and Hamilton based band Shananigans will make their debut this year. Unlike all the other festivals around the Beach Celtic Festival is NOT a “games” or competition but a music festival in the truest sense of the words.

A final quote from producer Sandy Graham sums it up best. “The Beach Celtic Festival was 'born' in 2004 in honour and appreciation of our Mum, Mima Sutherland-Graham. As well, our late father, Donald Arthur Graham was born and raised in the Beach; his father Peter Graham was a Quarrier Home Child, who built his home here.So what better place to celebrate our Celtic roots?  I am proud to have both roots in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland and also very proud to be a first generation Canadian. As popularity has grown for this event, The Celtic Festival has fast become a Beach Tradition and the neighbourhood welcomes everyone every year to join in this celebration of Celtic music, vendors, food and fun !

To all who supported us for over nine years, Go raibh céad míle maith agaibh (a thousand thank yous !) See you at the park!

The Beach Celtic Festival
Sept. 8 & 9 2012
9:00 am – 7:00 pm
Kew Gardens, Toronto