Most of the week, they are students, military officers, professors and network technicians — but on Monday night they become knights, ladies and nobles.
Member Stephane J.G. Colin, also known as Spurius Genucius Rutilus, describes the group as “a bunch of like-minded people who want to learn about history.” But, the learning isn’t done through textbooks, it is done through active participation.
Everything in the SCA is based on activities dating from the 16th century, but it’s not all historically accurate.
Monday nights are combat practice in the multipurpose room of the Military Family Resource Centre in Windsor Park in Halifax. During the session, a group of people, dressed as knights, hit each other with all sorts of weapons. Once the fight is over and one fighter is “killed,” they laugh and shake hands.
In the back of the room, another group practises fencing. Described as a “free form” of fencing, participants use daggers, their fists and sabres.
The SCA, a world-wide organization, is a structured society with an established hierarchy and set of rules, said Alex MacDonald, who also goes by the character name of Lord Gaston Le’Cordier. MacDonald explains they abide by an honour code, make sure every new member is integrated properly and also have a knight and squire mentor system.
According to their Organizational Handbook, “the SCA was incorporated in the United States in 1968, but counts its years from the first tournament held on May, 1966.” The first Baron and Baroness of the Barony of Ruantallan were named on Oct. 1, 1988.
Most members joined after being recruited by friends. Others, like MacDonald, were introduced to the group because their family was involved in SCA. Ian Pratt, known as Viper the Tuchux, decided to join after seeing a Game of Thrones’ battle scene between The Mountain and Oberyn Martell.
“The fighting I do is more physical; in a sense. We can punch, kick, throw, trip. Basically whatever it takes to win,” said Pratt, who links that style to Oberyn Martell, the character that inspired him.
As for Colin, he said his wife showed him a video of an SCA fight and the rest is history. She even ended up joining the SCA not long after he did.
The fighting has to obey a strict set of rules listed in the Marshal’s Handbook.
For example, every fighter must pass an inspection to make sure their equipment meets the safety rules. They are required to wear a proper helmet; neck and groin armour, as well as hand and wrist armour. Also, weapons can only be built from certain materials, such as wood and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Fighters must be 18 or older, but 16 and 17 year-olds can fight if they have their legal guardian’s signed permission.
“Safety. Safety. Safety,” said Colin. “We want to fight our friends, not kill them.”
Calligraphy, singing, weaving
While combat is a popular feature, there’s more to the SCA than the battles.
“It’s (easily) the flashiest aspect of it because you dress up a couple of people in suits of armour and start hitting each other with sticks. I don’t care where I am; I am gonna draw a crowd,” said Colin. “But it’s such a small portion of what the greater SCA is.”
They do a lot of other things, including calligraphy illumination, dancing, singing, weaving, cooking and pottery making.
Some members buy their costumes and weapons; others make their own.
“We’ve had some people who raised their own silkworms to make their own silk to build a dress,” said MacDonald.
Halifax’s SCA group is designated as the Canton of Seashire (cantons are the local groups). It is part of the Barony of Ruantallan, which includes all groups from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Barony of Ruantallan is located in the Crown Principality of Tir Mara — all the eastern Canadian provinces — in the East Kingdom. Worldwide, the SCA is made up of 19 kingdoms and over 35,000 members.
The Barony of Ruantallan usually holds a couple of formal events each year, around all of the cantons (three in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.). This summer, they will host the East Kingdom Crown tournament in Lake Echo, which will bring visitors from Eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.