By Grace Kennedy
Follow the sound of people hitting each other.
It’s not difficult – the Piers Military Community Centre in Halifax’s North End is small and only one door is open. A wave of stale sweat hits the nose: it smells like beer-league hockey. The pile of gym bags, discarded helmets and wooden sticks suggest it too.
But these helmets are metal. Some are hand-forged, others $1,200 masterpieces. The sticks are swords, axes and polearms. And the men on the gym floor are dressed as Crusaders, Roman soldiers, courtly knights and Celtic warriors.
It is the Canton of Seashire’s Monday night meeting, and the nobility are fighting to the death.
The Canton of Seashire is the Halifax chapter of an international medieval re-enactment group, the Society for Creative Anachronism.
The society, more commonly called the SCA, has chapters around the world and has created its own geography. Nova Scotia is part of the East Kingdom, further divided into Principalities, Baronies and finally Cantons.
The SCA, turning 50 this year, calls itself a “practical history society,” where members can recreate the activities of medieval Europe. Although this is the official mandate, members can explore their own interests, as long as it is pre-gunpowder.
Stephane Colin is a Haligonian IT professional. But on Monday nights, and at certain events throughout the year, he becomes Spurius Genusius Rutilus, a Roman soldier. Other members become Celts, Normans, Vikings, Crusaders and a least one person’s persona is Japanese.
For Colin, the excitement of recreating history has kept him in the society for seven years, but it was the combat that initially drew him in.
“It’s full-contact, not choreographed combat,” Colin said. “We have a saying – we’re here to kill our friends, not hurt them.”
The fighting works on an honour system. If a blow is strong enough, a fictional wound or death must be accepted.
“If I say it’s not good, it’s not good,” Nick Hue, a welder known as Nicholas of Lost Haven, said. “However, if it is good you should take it, because it just means he’s going to hit you harder next time.”
People interested in fencing must wear modern face masks, but the rest of their outfits are medieval or Renaissance.
They use rapiers and do combat to the touch – meaning the blade touches but does not pierce them.
Heavy fighters use wooden sticks to replicate different weapons. These sticks are covered with two colours of duct tape – one indicates the cutting edge of the blade.
Each heavy fighter has to wear protective gear. Hue, a Celt, has leather armour with a few metal accents. His neck protection resembles a leather collar, while pieces of plastic on the underside of his armour protects his legs. Lucas LePine, a Crusader, uses chain mail to protect his body and neck.
Fighting, although flashy, isn’t the only way people can participate in the SCA.
“I can take two people and I dress them up in a suit of armour … and we start fighting, I guarantee we’re going to draw attention. People will come and see us because: people fighting,” Colin said. “That’s such a small part of the SCA.”
Other members study dancing or music – the Canton of Seashire has a medieval choir that meets twice a month – while others follow recipes from medieval manuscripts.
Some sew clothing from the period, and others do pottery. Calligraphy and illumination – the art of decorating manuscripts and scrolls – were well represented at the Monday night meeting.
Cindy Bergeron – Lady Juliote de Castlenou D’arry – had brought some of her illuminations to the community centre. She was working on a small illumination on vegetable parchment; using handmade ink and goose-feather quills, she outlined gothic letters.
“We’re geeks of history,” Bergeron said.
All these different aspects of the SCA come together in events the Canton of Seashire holds once a month. In the summer the group often holds camping trips. This Saturday, it is holding an event called Twelfth Night, with dancing, singing and a feast.
“It gets really magical when the lights go off and its only candlelight,” said physiotherapist Heather McAuley – Baroness Hedda Bonesetter – “and everybody is just eating with daggers off of wooden plates, and there’s authentic music in the background.”
Every person at the event must be dressed in period appropriate clothing – no jeans or sneakers – and modernity must be hidden.
Bergeron made a cover for her cellphone to make it look like a prayer book; people who want to drink soda can cover the bottle in a slip of leather.
Events often have up to 150 people – there are usually more than a dozen children present – and there is no requirement for how involved members need to be.
“It really does depend what you want,” Bergeron said. “If you just want to come and play dress up and eat a great feast and dance and play music, then have fun.”