The evening Scotland came to Aundeck Omni Kaning

Paster Irwin Thompson gets right into the spirit of the night during the Robbie Burns Dinner, breaking out into an impromptu jig during the festivities. The spritely cleric may be retired, but he proved himself decidedly still deft of foot. photos by Michael Erskine

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—As St. Patrick’s Day has come to be recognized as a time to celebrate all that is Irish, particularly by the world wide diaspora of the Emerald Isle, so Robbie Burns’ birthday and the celebration of the Bard of Scotland is a time for Scots to celebrate the highlands and lowlands of their storied motherland.

So it was that Islanders from across Manitoulin, many of them descendants of Scottish émigrés seeking a better life in the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, were welcomed to the Four Directions Multiuse Complex by Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere for a Robbie Burns Dinner. The dinner was a fundraiser for the 348 Manitoulin Sea Cadet Corps and there was plenty of tartan to be seen across the hall as people settled in with friends old and new.

The evening’s festivities began with Piper David Beaton leading in the head table and then conducting the traditional marching in of the haggis, that Chieftain of the Pudding Race so celebrated in poem and Scottish lore.

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In her welcoming address, Chief Corbiere cited the importance of the Sea Cadet Corps to the youth of her community and the important role the Sea Cadets play in teaching discipline to Island youth.

Organizer Rick McCutcheon welcomed the celebrants and introduced the evening’s master of ceremonies, Bernie Andrews, whose wry wit and distinctive brogue added much to the ambiance of the evening.

Mr. Andrews delivered the ‘Address to the Haggis’ in Gaelic rhyme, followed by Pastor Irwin Thompson (himself well and fully bedecked in traditional Scottish regalia) reciting the ‘Selkirk Grace.’

Dinner included Haggis with cock-a-leekie soup, tatties and neeps, glazed carrots, rolls, roast beef, gravy, dessert and coffee or tea. Bartenders were on hand to supply the requisite for the numerous toasts and each table was also amply supplied with wine, both white and red.

“That is one of the things I love best about a Robbie Burns Dinner,” quipped Mr. Andrews. “There’s always plenty of toasts.”

Following dinner, the Scottish evening festivities continued, with Mr. Beaton delivering well received pipe solos, a Burns poem recited by Mr. Andrews, a musical interlude of Scottish songs by George Williamson on guitar and, as a special nod to Manitoulin’s connection to Robbie Burns, a reading of the Burns’ poem ‘Epigram to Miss Ainslie at Church’ by Pastor Thompson.

Mr. Andrews took the assembly through a brief history of Robbie Burns entitled ‘To the Immortal Memory of Robbie Burns,’ along the way debunking scurrilous rumours doubtlessly authoured and spread by jealous Sassannach. He noted that the workaholic bard not only worked on farms, in the coal mines and found time to create a massive body of work, but also managed to sire 22 children. “He came from the land and the plow,” said Mr. Andrews. “Which many of you can understand.” Mr. Andrews noted that Robbie Burns lived through both the American and French revolutions and, in a time before the advent of even daily newspapers, let alone radio, television or the Internet, he managed to stay incredibly well-informed on global affairs.

A parade of tartans was then led around the hall by the piper, as the sons and daughters of Scotland displayed their family connections. Among the most outstanding were the newly crafted kilt and kit of George Purvis of Gore Bay which featured the regional tartan of that part of Scotland from which his family hails and which the kilt maker assured him was “the only such kilt to be found in North America.” Honourable mention must go to Pastor Thompson’s full highland garb and the Canada Centennial tartan jacket sported by Dave Hill. As finely kitted a group of lads and lassies were n’er to be found this side of the ocean.

Mr. Andrews delivered the traditional tongue-in-cheek ‘Toast to the Lassies,’ to be rebutted with gusto by Cadet Commander Lt (N) Maggie King-Roi with the ‘Reply to the Toast of the Lassies.’

Following a few more songs of the highlands by Mr. Williamson, Fred Nesbitt of Honora Bay delivered the sombre ‘Toast to Absent Friends’ that recalls all those who, either because they have passed or for some reason were unable to attend the evening’s event, or for those whom “we have not yet met.”

On behalf of the Manitoulin Navy League, sponsors of the event, Bob Jewell thanked all who attended and those who put so much into bringing the event into being to raise funds for the Sea Cadets. “These people really have a heart for the youth of this Island,” he said.

As the evening drew to a close the assembly sang a rendition of that most familiar of the works of Robbie Burns, the New Year’s standard ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ A song that, in the words cited by Mr. Andrews “brings a tear to a glass eye.”

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