Great Scot! Scottish Society of Ottawa hosts its first Gala Burns Supper

Evening is part of month-long festival in Ottawa to celebrate Scottish culture, folklore and history

Should auld acquaintance be forgot then it very well might be time to reconnect with them through a wee dram and a good blather at a Robbie Burns Day dinner.

Saturday night’s Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh, held in the Trillium Ballroom of the Shaw Centre, was part of a month-long celebration of Scottish culture organized by the Scottish Society of Ottawa. The special evening embraced all things Scottish, from whisky and haggis, to bagpipes and highland dancing, to the Scotland’s favourite poet, Robert Burns.

Robbie Burns Day dinners usually take place on, or around, Burns’ birthday on January 25th.

Any kilt-wearing guests feeling a draft that bitterly cold night can only hope for improved temperatures during this Saturday’s 2019 Great Canadian Kilt Skate. It’s another one of the events being held during the 2019 OttScot Festival, which has received assistance from the Scottish Government. 

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From left, David Gourlay, new senior manager of major gifts for the OSEG Foundation, with Scottish Society of Ottawa executive director Perry McConnell — showing some leg — and Adam Thompson at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The formal part of the Gala Burns Supper began with the head table guests being piped into the room. Next to be paraded in was the haggis, a traditional Scottish dish consisting of minced sheep organs. You could call it an acquired taste.

Bill Carroll, host of The Morning Rush on 580 CFRA, was a wonderful and witty emcee. He nailed the Scottish accent, particularly the long rolling of the r. On a more sombre note, he asked everyone to take a moment to quietly remember recent OC Transpo bus crash victim Judy Booth, a well-known and loved member of the pipe and drum community.

The addressing of the haggis was carried out by his former colleague Brian Lilley. He just left CFRA to join the Toronto Sun as a full-time political columnist. That means he’ll be seeing a lot more of Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod, who's also the MPP for Nepean. She attended the gala with her husband, Joe Varner, executive director of the Bells Corners BIA.

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From left, Brian Lilley, in full Highland dress rented from The Scottish and Irish Store, with Lisa MacLeod, Ontario minister of children, community and social services, and her husband, Joe Varner, at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The MacLeod tartan was a popular one that night. It was worn by Lisa MacLeod as well as by Heather Theoret, whose maiden name is MacLeod. She’s the protocol officer for the City of Ottawa and serves as Scottish Society of Ottawa (SSO) board secretary.

Looking distinguished in his Fraser clan tartan was Graham Fraser, who later gave the traditional Toast to the Lassies — an essential part of any Burns Supper. The response was delivered by MacLeod.

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Graham Fraser with his wife, arts volunteer Barbara Uteck, at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh, hosted Saturday night by the Scottish Society of Ottawa, at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Fraser was named 2018 Scot of the Year by the Toronto-based Scottish Studies Foundation. His ancestors sailed to Canada from Kirkhill, outside Inverness, Scotland, in 1807. They settled in Pictou County, N.S. 

Fraser has had a distinguished career in journalism, as did his father, Blair Fraser. He also served for 10 years as Canada’s official languages commissioner, until 2016. He's currently a visiting professor at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. 

VIPs also included Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change. She was invited to make a toast to ‘the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns’, who penned Auld Lang Syne and many other classic works. 

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Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who's also the MP for Ottawa Centre, attended the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh with her 14-year-old daughter, Maddy Gilmore. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Scottish Society of Ottawa volunteer director Isobel Adams with the society's board treasurer, Christine Martel, at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh held at the Shaw Centre on Saturday, January 19, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Showcased that night was a set of bagpipes that date back more than 200 years (and supposedly played in the Battle of Culloden). They once belonged to John Brown, a forefather of SSO chair George Brown. John Brown played them amid pomp and ceremony at the laying of the cornerstone of Canada’s new legislature in 1860. The pipes are normally on display at the College of Piping in Summerside, P.E.I.

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George Brown, board chair of the Scottish Society of Ottawa, poses at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh with bagpipes played at the laying of the cornerstone of the first Parliament Buildings. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Also spotted in the crowd were Commander Neil Marriott, the United Kingdom’s naval and air attaché to Canada, and Catriona Little, who arrived here last September as part of the Scottish Government’s efforts to strengthen economic ties with Canada. She’s head of its new Scottish Government affairs office, based in the British High Commission in Ottawa.

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From left, Heather Theoret from the Scottish Society of Ottawa with Commander Neil Marriott and his wife, Kerry, along with Catriona Little, the Scottish Government's head of the Scottish Affairs for Canada, at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh. Photo by Caroline Phillips

According to the Scottish Government, seven million Canadians claim Scottish heritage; 9,500 Canadians live and work in Scotland; more than 1,000 Canadian students are currently enrolled in Scottish universities; and visitor numbers from Canada to Scotland increased by 50 percent in the last year.

The dinner, which raised money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, also featured entertainment by the Pipes and Drums of the Cameron Highlanders, Ernie Fraser and Company, The Brigadoons, the Ottawa Highland Dancing Association, and the Ottawa branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Association.

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Brian Lilley carried out the addressing of the haggis at the Gala Burns Supper and Ceilidh. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca