Tattoo returns to Halifax

The Calgary Fiddlers perform with the Tattoo Highland Dancers at the 2017 Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. Photo: Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff

Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo celebrates Vimy Ridge, Halifax Explosion centennials

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo rolled back into town from June 29 – July 6, bringing with it another exciting lineup of both military and civilian musicians, pipers, drummers, acrobats, daredevils and other performers, forming together for another year of memorable shows at the Scotiabank Centre and around Halifax.

In her debut year on the job, Tattoo director Jennie King highlighted the show’s goal of commemorating, honouring and educating Canadians, which this year was done through special tribute segments touching on the 100-year anniversaries of both the Halifax Explosion and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as well as the 150th anniversary of Confederation. And for the first time, 3D mapping and floor projection equipment was able to enhance the storytelling ability in new and innovative ways.

“This year, history is literally coming alive with this new technology,” King said.

The CAF is always an important partner to the Tattoo Society in making the show run smoothly, and this year was no different, with many serving members and multiple CAF bands involved in the performance itself, and others supporting behind the scenes.

For some, like the members of the Stadacona Band, returning to the Tattoo each year is a familiar tradition, but for others, performing on the floor of the Scotiabank Centre is a whole new experience.

The 8 Wing Band from CFB Trenton, for example, were playing for much larger crowds than usual as thousands poured into the arena over the six days of performances. MWO Chris Webster, originally from Winnipeg and posted to Trenton, said it was the first time the all-volunteer band had performed at the Nova Scotia Tattoo, and that the experience of working alongside so many pro performers and being part of a grand spectacle is a great learning opportunity for the part-time musicians.

“There’s no professional musicians in the band, they’re all retired members or currently serving members in another trade, so this is a big opportunity for us; we’re very thankful to be here.”

The CAF contingent was joined by the RCMP National Ceremonial Troop, as well as military colleagues from other nations, including the German Mountain Army Band, as well as the United States Navy Fleet Forces Band, made up of musically talented sailors from across the United States and known as “The Finest in the Fleet.”

This was the second year in a row that a U.S. military group performed at the Tattoo, which is unique in that their bands and drill teams generally don’t get permission to be outside of the country on July 4, the American Independence Day Holiday. In 2016, the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team was able to make the trip, the first for a U.S. Armed Forces group in 20 years, and this year, largely because of the Canada 150 celebrations, the Fleet Forces Band was happy to keep that representation going.

“We would normally be in the United States at this time, but 150 years as a nation is a very big milestone, and our two countries certainly have a special relationship; we’re here to help affirm that,” said Ensign Matt Shea, the group’s Assistant Band Master.

“We had to go up to a very high level to get it approved, but thankfully we were able to do that.”

Of course, plenty other acts exciting civilian acts from a number of countries and from all walks of life rounded out the Tattoo’s 2017 roster. Returning for the first time in 15 years were the IMPS Motorcycle Display Team, a group of talented young daredevils from the UK (some as young as five years old), and they were joined by fellow Europeans the Groove Onkels from Germany, who perform ‘trash percussion’ acts using garbage and recycling bins, as well as Guinness World Record holding acrobats the Kalutsikh Brothers from Moscow, Russia, and the award-winning Swiss gymnasts Holmikers, among a number of others.

The full Tattoo experience is obviously found during the performances at Scotiabank Centre, but plenty of others also got a taste of the Tattoo thanks to Tattoo festival events across the city, including at the Downtown Dartmouth ArtsTravaganza Festival, and even one special performance in Lunenburg.

In total, a contingent of about 250 CAF members lent support to the Tattoo and its related activities this year, including 90 musicians, more than 40 pipes and drummers, two obstacle race teams, a naval display team and a large group of logistics and administrative support staff.

“The CAF is always proud to work with the Tattoo production team and all the performers; everybody works hard to deliver an exciting cultural celebration of Canada,” said LCdr Sidney Green, the officer in charge of CAF support to the Tattoo.

“It’s a signature event for the Armed Forces and it affords us a good opportunity to raise awareness and understanding of our many roles and accomplishments.”