Gracie Lees

Gracie Lees

Celebrating Celtic culture in the Cariboo

The Williams Lake Pipe Band will host its third annual Celtic Ceilidh on Nov. 3.

The Williams Lake Pipe Band will host its third annual Celtic Ceilidh on Nov. 3, giving Cariboo Chilcotin residents the opportunity to celebrate their Welsh, English, Irish or Scottish heritage through food, music and dance.

Local long-time Cariboo resident and Royal Canadian Legion Zone Commander Vivian Macneil is Scottish to the bone thanks to her father, Charlie Buchanan. She is the fourth generation in her family in Canada, stating that it all started with Catherine Ann Gunn and Archibald Buchanan.

“Catherine Ann moved to Canada in the 1800s when she was 11 years old during the ‘Highland Clearances’ when the Scottish lords threw out poor people and brought in sheep,” she explained. “In Sutherland (northern Scotland) it was the worst. They would ‘tumble’ the thatched cottages and burn them; a practice that sometimes resulted in the death of people unable to escape.”

Catherine and Archibald married and moved to Miami, Manitoba and had 10 kids, each of whom had big families. Vivian was born in Saskatchewan, was raised in Surrey, lived in 100 Mile House for 12 years and moved to Williams Lake in 1971.

She said that from day one her family emphasized their Scottish heritage.

“My dad played fiddle and loved old time Scottish tunes, and when family members visited from Glasgow and from Manitoba, it was highlighted even more,” she continued.

“It’s more than the music–it’s history. Scots are very war-like people, and if they’re not fighting with their neighbors they’re fighting among themselves. My Scottish heritage is what got me interested in history.”

She said that there is a natural connection between Royal Canadian Legions and Scottish heritage — particularly bagpipe bands, adding that Legions are a military-based organization and a pipe band is a military band.

“I remember when I was nine years old there was a May Day parade in New Westminster. I walked all the way across the Pattullo Bridge to watch the parade because of the pipe band. Every chance I got, all my life, I listened to pipe bands: I always found them stirring and inspiring.”

She said that she was Legion president when the Williams Lake Pipe Band started up. “I was so delighted, and helped out any way I could. I think having a local pipe band adds pride to a local Legion. Our band is very dear to my heart, and whenever I see them performing in a parade or at an event I choke back tears — I’m so proud,” she said.

“Having a real pipe band at the cenotaph on November 11 makes all the difference in the world. The pipes are so special: when they play the lament and the ‘fly past’ goes overhead with the fallen soldier formation, it’s incredibly moving for the crowd.”

At the Ceilidh guests can enjoy things like tatties and gravy, bashed neeps, haggis and roast beef.

“Because the Ceilidh includes all things Celtic, last year we served a Welsh soup, English roast beef, an Irish cabbage dish and Scottish haggis,” she said.

Williams Lake resident Ron Hume, known for his dramatic and entertaining MC contribution at previous Celtic Ceilidhs and for his stirringly authentic ‘Ode to the Haggis’ at Robbie Burns Night, takes pride in his Scottish heritage.

He explained that his grandparents were from southern Scotland—that he grew up in an environment rich with Scottish tradition, history and culture.

“When I was young, living in Quesnel with my family, my dad was very involved with Robbie Burns nights. I used to watch him practicing the ‘Address to the Haggis’ in the mirror, acting it out. I started reciting it when I was about seven years old,” he said.

“My dad played in the pipe band and I had a teacher who would play the bagpipes for me after school. I always loved the pipes. It is one kind of music that speaks to me — and has done so all my life.

“We also come from a military background, and my father instilled in me a real pride in where we came from: it was the way we were brought up. He would read to us from a book of Robbie Burns’ work that was passed down from my grandparents,” he continued.

“Scotland has had a hard time of it. It’s not a country blessed with a lot of assets and resources, but the people are passionate and fearless. It’s a unique and fascinating background.”

Vivian Macneil said that events like the Celtic Ceilidh and Robbie Burns Nights are events where the community gets to experience part of their culture, or part of one they wished they belonged to. “There aren’t that many ethnic cultural events here—and this one is pretty true to the roots,” she explained.

One attraction for the Ceilidh is that kids are invited, according to Macneil, who said that at the Celtic Ceilidh three generations will perform a Scottish dance: her oldest great-grandchild Gracie, her granddaughter Taya and her daughter Sandy.

Five-year-old Gracie said that one thing she loves about dancing is twirling and wearing a kilt. “I started dancing when I was four years old, and it’s fun,” she said. “I learned to dance with my mommy, Kirsten.

“It just makes you happy to watch dancing,” she added.

“I’m excited to dance at the Ceilidh.”

Hume said that having kids at a Celtic celebration helps connect them as a family. “It’s bigger than their immediate family,” he stated. “It is about history and belonging.”

The Celtic Ceilidh hosted by the Williams Lake Pipe Band is on November 3 at the Royal Canadian Legion, and will include dancing to ‘Perfect Match.’ Tickets are available at the Legion and at About Face Photography.