They come from all walks of life, donning chain-mail and wielding blunted swords and axes. Medical students and knife-makers, army reservists and HVAC contractors, some are photographers, others are voice actors, and a few, perhaps unsurprisingly, are history majors and archaeologists.
They set-up in fields, sleep in tents and eat period-accurate foods comprised of meats, cheese and bread with two-pronged forks. They make jokes about each other, or about other encampments, and talk about the historical accuracy of medieval Hollywood films (The most accurate? A Knight’s Tale; The least? Braveheart), all while wearing heavy armour in sweltering June heat.
Amidst banners proclaiming the names of their troupes — The Dragon’s Own, The Society for Creative Anachronism — these medieval marvels square off against each other in the field of battle (in this case, the grounds of The Military Museums, formerly the Museum of the Regiments, right next to Crowchild Trail SW), fighting and sparring for the sake of glory and gusto.
After all, it is the Summer Skirmish, an annual event put on by the museum featuring re-enactors from over 2000 years of warfare and combat.
But who are the people so keen on meeting friends and foes alike sword-on-sword?
Dean Goffinet - “Sir Bertrand du Gueslin”
The Dragon's Own
“My roommate at the time needed a drive to go do this crazy sword-fighting thing in the park. So, I gave him a ride and we parked, and I could hear the clash of swords, and so I went over and took a look and I’ve been here ever since.”
Goffinet, of The Dragon’s Own, models his armour from the year 1350 A.D., around the time of the Hundred Years War which took place between the Kingdoms of England and France. He is also a knife-maker by trade, a career he picked up after joining The Dragon’s Own.
“I’m a nerd for the metal, so figuring out the steels that they used back then, compared to the things we use now, it fascinates me. I can study it. You’re looking at blades that are a thousand years old, and some of them are piles of rust, and some of them you can sharpen and use today. They’re still perfectly fine.”
Bonnie “The Breaker” Critchley
“Crap. Dean, how long we been doing this? Sixteen years, I think?”
Critchley, of The Dragon’s Own, models her all-black suit of armour from the year 1360, drawing influence from Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince, active during The Hundred Years War. Critchley, who served with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan in 2011, wears up to 90 pounds of armour when performing.
“The irony is during my deployment in Afghanistan, the stuff I carried was heavier. Between my frag vest, and my tac vest. My modern kit is heavier than my medieval kit,” says Critchley. Both frag (short for fragmentary), and tac (short for tactical), vests are types of body armour worn by modern soldiers in combat.
“Depending on the crowd, we’ll go from pure martial arts to something a little more theatrical. Play it up. We all like to hit each other.”
Luke Atkinson & Jaspal Sandhu
The Society for Creative Anachronism
Atkinson: “I actually started out with The Dragon’s Own back when I was 11. We did everything. I squired under Dean [Goffinet], stuck around for a couple of years and ended up sort of leaving the entire community behind,” says Atkinson.
Upon leaving The Dragon’s Own, Atkinson went to university in Saskatchewan where he studied history and archaeology. After discovering another re-enactment troupe, The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), had a chapter in Saskatoon, he became “loosely associated” with the group but never really got into it. After returning to Calgary, however, he began to take it more seriously.
“It took me a little while, but then I finally moved back into the city and said: ‘Let’s do it up.’”
“I’ve only been involved with the community again for about a year-and-a-half, and with the SCA, for two months. It’s really great. It’s really inclusive, it doesn't matter what colour you are, or gender, or experience levels.”
Atkinson models his “lower-born” armour from the year 1364, around the time after the Battle of Visby, which took place in 1361 on the island of Gotland, now part of Sweden.
Sandhu: “I joined the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism, almost 11 years ago. Honestly, it started with a game of [Dungeons & Dragons], and then someone told me: ‘Do you know there are people that do this for real?’ And I was like, ‘Where!’ and ‘When!’ and ‘How do I find them!’”
“I showed up and it was an event called Tavern, which is a monthly event that is drinking, carousing, and fighting with swords. And I was like: ‘This sounds like exactly my kind of people.’”
The Society for Creative Anachronism, which boasts 150-plus members in Calgary alone, features such activities as heavy combat involving full armour and rattan swords — a material comprised of thickly condensed wood — as well as rapier-fencing and medieval arts and sciences.
They divide the known world up into various kingdoms, with the Kingdom of Avacal being the name for the territory of Saskatchewan, Alberta and western British Columbia. Inside the “kingdoms” exist smaller territories known as “baronies,” with Calgary belonging to the Barony of Montengarde founded in 1986.
For Sandhu, a medical student who also trains aspiring SCA members, the draw comes from the ability to advance his own combat skills.
“Free lessons are probably one of my favourite things about the SCA, because I’ve advanced my skill level by leaps and bounds, and at six dollars a weekly lesson, that’s dirt cheap compared to any other martial art I can ever pick up.”
“I’ve been able to basically integrate some of the Indian martial arts that I learned when I was younger into a system of my own, which has been a tremendous amount of fun.”
- By Alec Warkentin