For the first time ever, I was a guest at a Robbie Burns
Dinner. It was a private Burns Dinner for the Burns Club of
Vancouver held Monday Feb 16th at the Terminal City Club in downtown
Vancouver. I was the guest of club president Robert Barr.
This was very unusual for me, because up to now the only Burns
Dinners I have ever attended were the ones that I have organized: The
first being the now famous living room dinner of 16, back in
1998, where we first combined a Robbie Burns Dinner with Chinese
influences, and the latter being the many subsequent fundraiser dinners
It was a by-invitation only sit down dinner in one of
Vancouver's oldest private clubs, hosted and organized by a
relatively new club to Vancouver. The Burns Club of Vancouver is
an all-male congregation only organized about 23 years ago, based on a
debating club actually founded by Burns on November 11, 1780.
This historic club was named “Bachelors Club, Tarbolton,” as all
the founding members were from Tarbolton Parish. See http://www.robertburns.org/encyclopedia/BachelorsClubTarbolton.70.shtml
The Burns Club of Vancouver bases itself upon the rules of the
Tarbolton Bachelor's Club of which the 10th rule is the most important:
“Every man proper for a member of this Society, must have a
frank, honest, open heart; above anything dirty or mean; and must be a
professed lover of one or more of the female sex. No haughty,
self-conceited person, who looks upon himself as superior to the rest
of the Club, and especially no mean spirited, worldly mortal, whose
only will is to heap up money shall upon any pretence whatever be
There were between 40 and 50 gentlemen all dressed in jackets –
about half with kilts, while some wore tartaned slacks.
Unfortunately the piper was a no-show, so one of the members played the
piano, as the haggis was carried in preceded by two club members
It brought back memories of my very first Robbie Burns experience
from 1993, when I helped the Robbie Burns celebrations at Simon Fraser
University. I carried the SFU claymore (Scottish broadsword) that
had been donated by Lord Lovatt, Chieftain of the Fraser Clan in
Scotland. I followed the piper, and a history student named Karen
carried the haggis behind me.
All told, it was a proper Burns Supper consisting of a
wonderful Roast Beef, servied with tatties (potatoes) with a good
dollop of horse radish and a very tasty haggis. Dinner was
followed by the traditional toast to the lassies, readings of Burns
poetry and songs, a Burns eulogy, and speech about the Tarbolton
After singing two verses of Auld Lange Syne to close the formal part
of the dinner, a singalong around the piano was held while others had
drinks and conversed in good topics.
Obviously, the recent successes of both the Gung Haggis Fat Choy
dinners and CBC television special were good topics and I was in
demand for conversation. Don McTavish came up to me and said he
had attended the 2003 Gung Haggis Fat Choy, and lauded it as one of the
best Burns dinners he had ever attended. He especially enjoyed
the singers that performed.
Harry McGrath, the coordinator of the SFU Scottish Studies Program
was also at the dinner. He told me that all his relatives in
Scotland were asking him about this “crazy Chinese Robbie Burns dinner
in Vancouver.” Apparently Gung Haggis Fat Choy was all over the
news in Scotland too, especially after Amy Carmichael's piece ran on
Canadian Press and Associated Press as Ms. Carmichael had quoted Harry
as saying, “I think it's wonderful, this Sino-caledonian fusion,” after
describing how I had brought my accordion to a Burns Club meetin and
played celtic songs and described Gung Haggis Fat Choy.