It’s that time of year once again when the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 joins people around the world in celebrating a night of Scottish heritage with Robbie Burns Night this Saturday, Jan. 25.
Robert ‘Robbie’ Burns died at the age of 37 in Scotland in the late 1700s, yet his impact on literature and most importantly Scottish culture is still keenly felt today. Burns is still widely considered the national poet of Scotland and wrote extensively in the Celtic language creating poetry and music that have endured long past his death.
Many of the songs we naturally associate with Scotland were either written by Robbie Burns or collected by him from the countryside of Scotland during his lifetime. He has become such an influential figure that on Jan. 25, his birthday, each year around the world people celebrate his memory and legacy through song, dance and good food.
In Williams Lake, this night is organized by the Legion and features performances by the Williams Lake Pipe Band in full regalia complete with tartan kilts and highland dress. A fun evening for all, the night consists of toasts to Burns’ memory, a hearty Scottish-inspired meal, the presentation of the haggis and reading several of Burns’ most famous poems.
For members of the pipe band, however, this night is especially important as a chance for them to share their heritage and love of pipes. For some, it’s been a lifelong passion but for others like Aubrey Jackson, it’s something they came too late in life but have taken to with a vengeance.
Jackson came to the lakecity 2010 where shortly after arriving he met Doug White, a longtime member of the pipe band who emigrated to the Cariboo from Scotland, and was fascinated by his thick Scottish brogue. A year or so later, they started talking about bagpipes and White invited Jackson to come and try his hand at it with his son Lucas, which they did in the fall of 2012.
After several months of practice, Jackson bought his own set of pipes and was invited to join the band which he did in 2013 and has been working ever since to improve his craft. White, who is 90 this year, has been hugely influential for Jackson who credits the skills he has to the veteran piper’s expert tutelage.
His interest in Scottish culture began well before meeting White, however, as, while he is Indigenous, he also has Scottish roots through his grandmother’s father who belonged to Clan Morrison. As a child, he recalls his family gathering together once a week to teach their family dances and songs to the new generation which included highland dancing to bagpipes creating an early fascination for him.
“The pipes are a military-type instrument, it gets people fired up, and I think that’s one of the attractions to the pipes for me, how they make me feel,” Jackson said. “Like I’m ready to take on any challenge.”
When it comes to celebrating Robbie Burns, named the greatest Scott ever by some, Jackson said there are other candidates for sure, but none have quite had the same lasting legacy that Burns has enjoyed. His poems, songs and literature are, in Jackson’s opinion, etched into time and can be read and enjoyed now just as much as in 1796 when Burns died.
“It will still inspire people today. The same literature still brings up the same questions and highlights the challenges society faces today, still has the ability to move people spiritually,” Jackson said. “Robbie Burns, he captured these concerns and challenges that mankind faces regularly. I think it’s really important for us to celebrate that and (to encourage) people in today’s society, of all ethnicities, to really take a close look at the writings of Robbie Burns.”
This year Robbie Burns Night gets underway at 6 p.m. with cocktails, before dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. The entire community is welcome to attend and enjoy a few drinks and good food for $35 and adult and $15 for children. Musical performances take place after the meal and will include songs by the Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddle Society.
After the meal and performances by the pipe band, a dance will be held with music provided by the Markabillies.