The spirit of Scotland and her favourite son Robert ‘Robbie’ Burns was alive at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 Saturday.
Robbie Burns Night is an annual tradition celebrated by both the Legion here in lakecity and hundreds of other groups across the world. Honouring both the traditions and heritage that many Scottish families and Scottish enthusiasts hold dear, it’s centered around the memory of the 18th century poet Robbie Burns.
Considered by many to be a symbol of pure Scotland, Burns was a celebrated young poet in his day accredited with the writing or recording of many classic Scottish poems and songs. His humorous and vigorously lived 37 years of life have left such an impact that 200 years after his birth his birthday is still celebrated around the world.
In Williams Lake, this consisted of the time honoured tradition of gathering at the Legion for some good traditional Scottish food, the sweet taste of a shot of Drambuie and a night of music and poetry. Sold out at the door the night was well attended by young and old from hereditary Scots to those with a passion for the culture.
As dinner progressed the Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddle Society regaled the gathering with traditional Celtic tunes, with some even singing along to the melodies. The poetry of Burns was read throughout, as was the classic Toast to the Lassies and the rebuttal Toast to the Laddies.
As with every year, the Williams Lake Pipe Band was in rare form as they played the unmistakably Scottish bagpipes and drums. Even longtime piper of some 70 years and the aficionado of all things Scottish, Ian Douglas ‘Doug’ White, brought his pipes out for a few songs.
White is a veteran of one of the British Army’s Highland regiments and played his pipes at the funeral of King George VI, though he started playing the pipes long before he joined the army. At 88 years old White has been playing the pipes for more than 70 years.
Playing the pipes, at both Robbie Burns Night and other events over the years, has given the Edinburgh native a “big” set of lungs and has kept him healthy and hale. The event is not only a chance for him to show off his heritage but also a way to support his partner.
“One of the big things is my dear lady Vivian (MacNeil) and she is right into anything Scottish and I’ve been with her 10 years now,” White mused.
“Though I’ve been doing this long before we got together. I always liked this stuff, eh, the Scottish stuff.”
He believes that at this point for many in the community Robbie Burns Night is a tradition and akin to a holiday like Christmas they look forward to every year. Part of this, White attributes, is the influence the Scottish have had over the development of Canada from her first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald to the first non-native man to cross the North American continent, Alexander Mackenzie.
“So much depended on the Scots, you know, that roving nature, wanting to see something different,” White said.
When asked if he would play the pipes again next year, White’s answer was a firm yes as “I’m still here, I’m still breathing, still kicking.”
Barring any health concerns, come next year White will proudly celebrate his and Canada’s shared heritage.