It was a perfect day for a war.
A pearly light spread over the canvas tents that dotted the Maple Ridge field. Women in long linen dresses wandered through the encampment, chatting with men dressed in gleaming metal armour. Dust billowed across the grass, not from war horses awaiting orders, but from Cassandra Caunce’s SUV.
Caunce and her husband Ian had driven from Cloverdale Saturday morning (May 26) to attend the annual weekend war, part of a tradition in the Society for Creative Anachronism, more commonly known as the SCA.
The SCA is a medieval recreation group of 30,000 members from around the world. Perhaps best known for its fighting, which sees men and women don armour so they can attack each other with mock weapons, it is also a place where history buffs can recreate the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe and beyond.
Ian Caunce is a fighter, what Cassandra lovingly calls a “stick jock.” Focusing on heavy fighting, as well as archery and thrown weapons, he dons the name Herbateus when he is at an SCA event. Cassandra becomes Ceara inghean ui Mhadadhain, a 15th century Irish woman.
Some members of the SCA delve deep into their personae, attempting to be as accurate as possible in their clothes, mannerisms and addresses. The Caunces, not so much.
“We’re not re-enactors,” Cassandra explained. “We’re re-creators. We recreate medieval times as we would have wanted them to be.”
At the war on May 26, the difference between the two types of SCA members was clear. Some of the 247 members arrived in medieval tents, perfect replicas from the canvas to the wooden beams to the rope. Others came in easy-up nylon tents. The Caunces compromised, bringing a pop-up canopy that mimicked the shape of medieval tents without the hassle of setting it up.
Their spot was next to the Baron and Baroness of Lions Gate, good friends of the Caunces both in and out of the SCA and the reason there was a war taking place on the Albion Fairgrounds.
The SCA region is divided into 20 kingdoms. Each kingdom is divided into principalities, and each principality is divided into baronies and shires. Cloverdale, and the rest of the Lower Mainland, falls into the Barony of Lions Gate. Victoria belongs to the Barony of Seagirt.
For more than 30 years, these baronies have been at war. In the beginning, they would fight for supremacy on the neutral ground at Salt Spring Island. Now, they alternate hosting the Sealion War.
Of course, you have to have a reason to declare war.
“That’s part of the fun,” Cassandra explained. “They make up reasons to have the wars with each other. And this one is going to be particularly amusing I think.”
The reason? This year’s war is all about hats.
The Baron of Seagirt is well known for his well-made and rather large hat. When the Baron of Lions Gate, Uilliam, visited Seagirt for another event, he took with him a bigger hat.
“His wife, the Baroness, made a really tall [hat]. It was probably about four-feet tall, it was out of cardboard. She spent all of 10 seconds making the darn thing,” Cassandra said, laughing at the reminiscence. When the Baron of Seagirt saw it, he took it off Uilliam’s head and stomped on it.
Thus, war was declared.
Winning a war is simple enough: whichever barony gets the most points is the victor. As in a real war, combat is key. There are points for heavy fighting, combat archery, regular archery, rapier and champion battles. But there are also other SCA-specific points: for the best hat in any medium, for the best-decorated newspaper hat, for children’s equestrian riding, for games playing and for the bardic arts.
The combat is the flashiest part of the war, as warriors from all eras gear up in armour and set out to the open field to battle each other. Because not as many Seagirt fighters were able to come for the weekend, Lions Gate lent a few to the enemy.
There were also a few unknowns. Christian Bane, the crown prince of An Tir (the principality that includes B.C., Washington and Oregon) was present at the war, and could fight for either side. He’s an athlete, Baron Uilliam explained, treating this replica battle as seriously as a professional football player treats his sport. And just like a professional athlete, his personal life was not devoid of gossip.
“When they say ‘Salute the one who inspires you this day,’ usually they take their sword and they salute,” Baroness Caitrina said to Cassandra, sitting on a wooden bench beneath her sunshade. But Christian just stares at crown princess Helene d’Anjou “and she just stares intently at him. Like, what are they saying to each other?”
“Sometimes,” Cassandra said. “Sometimes he salutes her and then they do that.”
“You can almost see her saying ‘You got this, you got this, you got this’,” the baroness said.
“It’s pretty intense,” Cassandra said. “But they’re adorable together.”
The banter about the royalty of the SCA shows another important aspect of the Sealion War: camaraderie.
“Sometimes you’re going to an event, and you’re seeing people you haven’t seen in two or three years,” Ian Caunce said. “Maybe they’ve been busy at work and haven’t been able to go to the event. So you get to reminisce and talk.”
“It’s a great bunch of fun,” Cassandra agreed.
The war points played out throughout the day, with fighting continuing from noon until evening. The bardic competition began at dusk, featuring silly songs about hats and lore from history.
At 11 a.m. the next day, closing court began. The barons and baronesses were about to announce who won the war.
The first point went to Seagirt for heavy fighting, as did the rapier point. Archery, combat archery, the champion battles, games and children’s equestrian all went to Lions Gate. The arts and sciences point went to Lions Gate for a savoury medieval pastry called, appropriately, a hat.
Thus, the war went to Lions Gate and peace was declared. For now.