ESTEVAN — Scottish culture and the life and art of Scotland's greatest poet were celebrated during the annual Robert Burns Night at the Royal Canadian Legion's Estevan branch.
The annual event started in Estevan in 1978 and has been going strong ever since, with the exception of the two pandemic years when the tradition had to be put on pause. On Saturday, Robert Burns Night made a successful return with a traditional sell-out.
"I think this night was a tremendous success considering the two years layoff due to COVID. We were concerned. But between the pipe band and the dancers, everything came together pretty good," said Capt. Robert Rooks, who was a part of the South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR) before it was disbanded in 1968, and who also started the Pipe and Drums Band in Estevan in the early 1970s.
A few hundred Estevan people gathered to celebrate Burns' upcoming birthday, which falls on Jan. 25 and also coincides with Rooks'.
The No. 2901 Estevan Elks Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Cadet Pipes and Drums Band organized and entertained at the event, which was also a fundraiser for them. The Drewitz School of Dance also delivered several performances including the Highland Fling, which is one of the oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland and historically signified victory following a battle.
Capt. Ken Turner was the master of ceremonies for the night. To start the evening, Cpl. Leo Mitchell, Cpl. Alex Krupka, Lance Cpl. Kayla Mitchell and Cpl. Jacob Pyra, accompanied by piper Lt. Angela Durr, piped in the flags. Then Rachel Duncan led the singing of O Canada.
After the introduction of the head table for the evening, band members piped in the haggis – the Scottish national dish, which is a savory pudding containing sheep pluck and oatmeal.
Allan Mohrubutter read an address to haggis, which was followed by The Selkirk Grace by Pyra. The head table then led the guests in raising a toast to the King for the first time in 70 years, and then everybody in presence were invited to try the lamb dish and enjoy supper.
Dyana Drummelsmith shared more about Burns' life and poetry.
Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist who was writing during the Enlightenment Period and his place in history occupies the mid-to-late 18th century in Scotland. He is most well known for contributing to Scottish culture with such pieces as his famous song Auld Lang Syne.
Drummelsmith noted that the first Robert Burns' Night was celebrated over 200 years ago and since then the tradition spread across the world.
"Such a celebration has been done since 1801. It started on July 21 of that year as a little gathering of [Burns'] friends on the fifth anniversary of his death. They met in the Alloway cottage where Burns had been born on January 25, 1759, and the next year moved the celebration date to the anniversary of his birth," Drummelsmith said.
Although he could have written his poems in the more common Queens English, Burns wrote everything he produced in various dialects of Scotland. Burns, like other Scottish writers of the era such as Sir Walter Scott, were a part of a sub-movement in art, history, storytelling and literacy know as romanticism.
"His language was earthy and images real and gritty. Burns is fun to read, more so than all the other romantic poets. It will make you laugh, but is also deep enough to argue and ponder over. Poems about sex, gender, alcohol, culture and wild imaginings are able to appeal to teenage audiences and older audiences alike," Drummelsmith said in her speech.
"Burns lived a full life as father, husband, lover, intellectual, poet and songwriter. In his art and life, he loved beauty and honesty, while despising arrogance and hypocrisy. He loved a good party, a good story, a good song, and a good drink with friends. He loved life, loved lassies, and he loved being one of the boys.
"In conclusion, Burns' voyage in life was a grand one – and it is a testament to his life and talents that since his death, his standing around the globe has only increased.
"Now that we know why we are here, I'd ask you to raise a toast. To a poet of the ages. To Scotland's best loved son. To the immortal memory of Robert Burns," Drummelsmith concluded.
Once the tables were moved out of the way, the Pipes and Drums Band took the floor to perform their playlist for the night including such songs as Scotland The Brave/Rowan Tree, The Children/Hills of Alva, Highland Laddie/Brown Haired Maiden and more. The music by the band was intertwined with traditional dance performances by the Drewitz School of Dance. The guests were then invited to dance the night out with music by DJ Dave Elliot.