A s the daughter of a past hasher and ardently patriotic third-generation Scotsman, I felt it my filial duty to seize the opportunity to embark on my own hashing experience. Hashing, of course, is the outdoor run and accompanying ceremonies of the Hash House Harriers (HHH), an international running-cum-drinking group with over 1,500 local chapters and enough drinking songs to rival any university frosh crowd. This past weekend, the hash was themed in honour of Robbie Burns, the Scottish bard memorialized the world over every last Sunday of January.
The community of Hash House Harriers traces its origins to Kuala Lumpur where, in 1938, a group of expatriates formed a running group to fend off their weekend hangovers. Since then, the group has grown and members can be found in virtually any metropolitan area of the globe, and even as far away as Antarctica. Membership in the community consists of a weekly run and lots of drinking. Once they’ve earned it, each member is christened with their own hash name – usually the most vulgar creation fellow hashers can come up with. Captain Canada, a prominent member of the Montreal Hashing community, having run over 320 trails, explained the tradition. “The hash names were invented as a way for people to remain anonymous and thus to keep [their] personal lives separate and protected. In many places, members of the group may never know each other’s real names. As a general rule, ‘what goes on [on] the hash, stays on the hash.’”
Foxy Lady, another Montreal hasher, described the sense of community that comes from hashing. “Almost everywhere you travel in the world you will find a Hash House Harriers group. Wherever we go on vacation, we try to join up with the local group, as they are a great source of information for the best restaurants [and] places to see. I have run with groups in Barbados, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Europe, Mexico, [and] the U.S.A.”
Since the first International Hash – the Interhash – was held in 1978 in Hong Kong, hashers the world over have been meeting every two years in various exotic locations. The next international assembly will take place this summer in Borneo. As one of the Montreal hashers put it, it will be “one fucking great big party. Just gotta watch the snakes.”
The group that greeted me at the hash was extremely amiable, infectiously enthusiastic, and expectedly vulgar. After introducing myself, I was promptly asked what my favourite position was. This information seemed to hold as much merit (or more) as would my name or any of the usual pleasantries.
The run, which migrates around the city, was in Outremont this weekend. The winding route lasted about an hour and a half. The trail, set by the “Hare” beforehand, isn’t clearly marked, and hashers cooperate to find the route using a hashing language, most notably the “On, On!” hail that has become synonymous with the HHH. The trail is marked with chalk or, when the terrain is more rugged, by shredded carrots sprinkled on the snow. The run accommodates the more athletically inclined as well as those walking, with devices such as checkpoints to allow time for stragglers to catch up while false trail leads offer their fit colleagues an added opportunity to stretch their legs.
The costume for winter running typically follows a strict convention. However, in keeping with the holiday, a tartan dress-code was uniformly enforced. Having forgotten my own Robertson tartan at home, I was hospitably received with a plaid tablecloth-turned-cape to repair my foul.
Though the Montreal hashing group isn’t short on vulgarity, it claims to be of a tamer ilk than others. Said Little Big Man, “Montreal is like family. I’m having sex with one of the Montreal harriets so I always enjoy hashing there.… I don’t mean it like I enjoy having sex with family, but I consider everyone in the Montreal hash my dysfunctional siblings.”
That being said, Captain Canada explained that other chapters “such as Hogtown in Toronto, are a bit more raunchy in the ceremonial aspects of the run,” noting high levels of nudity and general bawdiness.
Foxy Lady agrees that “the Montral hash is a family-based group, where, depending on the location, kids and dogs are welcomed,” as are walkers, joggers, runners, and even those who choose to stay at the meeting (drinking) place. “The aim of the group is to have fun and be sociable. Getting some exercise is a bonus.”
Little Big Man recounted some of his more memorable hashing experiences. “Once in Hogtown, a lady who was at the hash topless actually spoke to me. I enjoyed that.... In Puerto Vallarta, a harriet named Tits Ahoy let me and Panty Ho from Montreal each touch one of her boobs for a photo. That was fun.”
Captain Canada also highlighted the group’s social benefits. “It’s a great way to meet people and a lot of pretty good pairings have been made over the years.... The hash is a fun and noncommittal way for people, regardless of profession or affiliation, to have fun and let off steam.”
The run itself was only an indication of what would follow. After reaching the “ON-INN!” sign marking the end of the hash, the group is traditionally invited to catch their breath. More importantly, the hashers quench their thirst at the final destination, in this case the home of the hare. The proceeding “circle” ceremony requires particular hashers to perform a “down-down” surrounded by the group, during which said hasher must empty their cup or pour whatever remains onto their head, to the vocal accompaniment of, to put it mildly, animated drinking songs. Newbies should expect to take at least one “down-down” as a form of initiation, probably followed several more for other reasons or accusations such as tackiest costume, tripping on the course, or virtually any other conclusion the hashers come up with. To finish, the circle ceremony was headed up by a steaming haggis in honour of Sir Robbie Burns, as well as a poetry recital.
The hashers are a warm group eager to welcome new members. Although my initiation into the HHH was relatively tame, my experience with the hashers of Montreal is a great memory, and one I hope to repeat soon. As Captain Canada explained, however, “when done right, there is no memory of the experience at all.”
The Montreal Hash House Harriers meet every Sunday at 1 p.m. at various locations (check mhhh.ca for details); all are welcome. An approximate $7 “Hash-cash” is requested to cover beer and snacks.