New Brunswick

Feel the Burns: communities raise a toast to Scottish poet

Burns Night celebrations will take place in New Brunswick communities from Kincardine to Miramichi over the next few weeks in honour of the poet born on Jan. 25.

Nova Scotia isn't the only Maritime province with a rich Scottish heritage

A statue of Robbie Burns stands high above Victoria Park in Halifax. New Brunswick has a similar statue in Fredericton. (Robert Short/CBC)

Proud Scots across New Brunswick will tune up bagpipes, don kilts, and down drams of whisky in honour of Robert Burns starting this month.

Burns, one of Scotland's best-known poets and a pioneer of the Romantic movement, was born Jan. 25, 1759.

UNB Saint John English professor Sandra Bell speaks at a Burns Night in Rothesay in 2016. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Since his death in 1796, Burns Nights have become an international tradition — including in New Brunswick, where Scottish immigrants first began to arrive in the early 1800s. The province's rich Scottish heritage has been carried on in place names such as Campbellton, Elgin, Minto, Perth-Andover, Rothesay and Saint Andrews. 

According to the New Brunswick Scottish Cultural Association, at least five Burns Night celebrations are taking place this year in New Brunswick communities from Kincardine to Miramichi. 

Working-class poetry

Part of Burns's lasting appeal could be his depictions of working-class life.

"Burns speaks to people now the same way he spoke to people 230 years ago," said Dr. Sandra Bell, professor of English at UNB Saint John.

Burns, a poor tenant farmer-turned-poet, "speaks about the natural world in a way many of us recognize, about love and all of its glories and anguish — about politics, and the role of the average person," said Bell. 

"In a democracy, like we live in, the common person has a lot to say — perhaps even more so in the 21st century than in the late 18th century."

Although the old-fashioned dialect used in poems such as Auld Lang Syne, To a Mouse, and Ode to a Haggis can be intimidating, Burns's archaic language is "one of those things that draws you and makes him unique," Bell said.

Like haggis, an acquired taste

Not everybody gets Robbie Burns — which is fine.

"For some people, that Scottish dialect is difficult," Bell said. "But he still brings people together. His writing looks to the past, but also allows us to talk about the present."

Moreover, Burns Night has become a tradition in its own right.

"For 200 some years, people have been gathering and celebrating," Bell said. "You don't want to give that up.

"It's an evening of fun, food, song, and poetry, and that's a good way to gather people together."

The man himself: Robert Burns, born this week in 1759. (Wikipedia)

Where to celebrate

Burns Night celebrations are planned in the following New Brunswick communities:

Burns Night in the Scotch Colony: concert and dance
Friday, Jan. 27. 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Burns Hall, Kincardine 
(Weather date Saturday, Jan. 28)

Robbie Burns Banquet, Greater Moncton Scottish Association
Saturday, Jan. 28. 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Masonic Temple, 115 Queen St., Moncton 
Tickets $30. Reception at 5 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m.

Burns Night in the Scotch Colony, Second Performance
Sunday, Jan. 29. 2:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Burns Hall, Kincardine 
Tea afterward

Robbie Burns Social Night, Highland Society Miramichi
Friday, Feb. 3. 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Miramichi Curling Club, Cove Road, Miramichi
Bonspiel and card tournament. Curlers arrive by 6:30 p.m., others by 7 p.m.