No Burns Day celebrations at Simon Fraser University… a sad day indeed!

No Robbie Burns Day to celebrate Scottish culture at SFU.

In 2010, Burnaby Mayor Derick Corrigan eats a handful of haggis, under the watchful eye of then SFU President Michael Stevenson, SFU Pipe Band members and SFU mascot McFogg the Dog. – photo T.Wong

There are no Robbie Burns ceremonies at Simon Fraser University this year.  No SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival either. Both the Ceremonies Department and SFU Recreation and Athletics cite budgetary restrictions.  Are the universities so tight for cash that there are no pennies left in SFU's sporran?  How much is it for a haggis and a bagpiper? 

(note: I phoned the office of SFU President Andrew Petter, and was informed that the budget cuts happened before Petter took office in the Summer – so the plot thickens… SFU has known that the Burns ceremonies was canceled since at least September… and still nobody did anything?).

The only Burns celebration will be the annual Robbie Burns Day Supper hosted and organized by the SFU Pipe Band – which is independent of the university.  SFU provides practice space in exchange for use of the name.  I even checked the SFU calendar – While the SFU Pipe Band is listed on the events page, there is no listing for Burns Day ceremonies or the SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival.  Sadly, January 25th is blank… empty… nothing…

This is a strange departure for a university that adopted Scottish
culture in its motto “Je Suis Prets,” taken from the Fraser Clan motto and
coat of arms.  Even the University's colours match the blue and red
from the Fraser Hunting tartan.  And why call your sports team “The
” unless you are modeling yourself on Scottish culture?  Simon
Fraser University also offers a Centre for Scottish Studies program that
has been doing great community outreach in Vancouver area with Director
Dr. Leith Davis.

In recent years, SFU has celebrated Burns Dinner, by having the three city mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, who also happened to have Scottish ancestry, attend Burns ceremonies at the three cities where SFU campuses are located.   The Burns ceremonies have grown more elaborate over the years.  When I helped out in 1993, the ceremony was simple.  The bagpiper led, I followed holding the sword upright, and the haggis carrier followed, and we delivered the haggis to the main cafeteria, where somebody must have given the Address To a Haggis.
But in 2009, SFU helped to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robbie Burns by having piping and Scottish dancing at each of the campuses in Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver.   And at the Burnaby campus there was even the debut of the first ever “Dressed to Kilt” fashion
show at the Highland Pub.

Hmmm…. I think that SFU not celebrating Robbie Burns Day, would be like NOT having a Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver Chinatown, or no St. Patrick's Day Parade in Vancouver for March 17th!   But wait… The occurrence of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening on the same weekend as Chinese New Year almost necessitated the cancellation of the Chinese New Year Parade last year, but was saved as the parade was opened earlier in time to clear the streets before an afternoon hockey game.  Sadly, the entire week of Celtic Fest activities was canceled in March due to venues being booked for Olympics and Paralympic events.  But Simon Fraser University doesn't have to compete with the Winter Olympics, they are only citing budgetary constrictions.  How expensive can a single haggis be?

I first became involved with the strange customs of Scottish-Canadians when I was asked in 1993 to help with the Burns Day ceremony.  I was a student tour guide, and we were paid to give tours to visitors.  But nobody wanted to carry a haggis, and wear a kilt.  Being loyal to my job, I hedged… “I'll do it if you can't find anybody else,” I said to our team leader, being very mindful of all the deep snow around campus that cold week in January.

They called back, and the rest is the stuff of legends.  “Toddish McWong” made his media debut in both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, for being multicultural open to embracing a Scottish tradition, which in 1993, was 2 days away from Chinese New Year. 

“Gung Haggis Fat Choy” was coined as a word, and would follow me for the next few years, even after I graduated from SFU, and never even tasted the haggis that day on the mountain.

Years later I would invite friends to the first Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.  We had 16 people in the living room of a private townhouse in North Vancouver.  Our host Gloria hired a bagpiper, from the SFU Pipe Band.  I cooked most of the Chinese dishes.  We served the haggis with sweet & sour sauce, and with plum sauce.

2009_Scotland_ThisIsWhoWeAre 098

“Toddish McWong” at the Scottish Parliament exhibition of “This Is Who We Are: Scots in Canada.

Over the years, I have come to celebrate both the Scottish and Chinese
pioneer history and culture at Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinners.  So many of
the place names of BC are named after Scottish places, such as
Craigellachie – the site of the last spike of the Canadian Pacific
Railway.  In fact for 2009 Homecoming Year Scotland, Harry McGrath, the
former director of the Scottish Studies Program of SFU, created the
project: This Is Who We Are: Scots in Canada.  The photo project matched
pictures of similar named places in Scotland and Canada, such as Banff,
New Glasgow, and many others.  I was honoured to be part of their
project, and I attended the closing night reception at Scottish
Parliament, where I encountered a life-size picture of myself.

In 2004, I received a phone call from SFU Recreation Department, asking if I could help them create an event that could bring together the University's Scottish heritage and traditions with the large Asian population of students.  In January 2005, we unveiled the SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy “Canadian Games”.  

 click for more photos

Sadly there are no dragon cart races for SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival this year.  But last year, McFogg the Dog and Toddish McWong posed with the winning team in 2010 – The Wellness Warriors.

created dragon cart races – imagine dragon boats “paddling” across SFU's convocation mall.  Imagine trying to have the world's largest “Haggis eat-in.”  It was a big hit.  Okay, not the haggis bit… but many students tried haggis and said they liked it.

For the past few years, I have been the race commentator for the dragon cart races.  It is always fun to watch people having multicultural fun, and playing with the cultural stereotypes.

But sadly…. not for this year at Simon Fraser University. 

This is the year that Maclean's Magazine also published an article in it's annual university issue, titled “Too Asian?”   It has generated a lot of co
ntroversy as Asian-Canadians and cultural analysts have criticized the article for pandering to stereotypes and faulty journalism.   “Maybe SFU is NOT Scottish Enough now?”  A list of critiques can be found on

One thought on “No Burns Day celebrations at Simon Fraser University… a sad day indeed!

  1. Shelley Butchart

    Hi Todd,

    Bill McFadden has scheduled your Gung Haggis Fat Choy in Seattle for February 16, 2014. He’s gotten inquiries from a group asking about the date for your 2014 GHFC in Vancouver. They would like to attend, and also want to avoid scheduling any conflicting events on your date. I seem to have lost your e-mail address. Hoping this reaches you. Thanks, Shelley


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