Robbie Burns and The Canadian Celtic Connections


Submitted by Sandy Graham

Born on January 25th, 1759, in Alloway, Scotland, Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English and a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland.

As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) "Auld Lang Syne" is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and "Scots Wha Hae" served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include "A Red, Red Rose"; "A Man's A Man for A' That"; "To a Louse"; "To a Mouse"; "The Battle of Sherramuir"; "Tam o' Shanter"; and "Ae Fond Kiss".  In today’s music business standards he would have at least two platinum albums and Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2.  Merchandise galore would be available for the tour.

Even if you’re not Scottish and don’t know Robbie Burns you have heard of him and even if you haven’t heard of him it’s a safe bet you know at least one of his songs. Burns wrote the New Year’s Eve perennial song “Auld Lange Syne”. The legacy he left has inspired Scots around the world to celebrate his life every January 25th with a Robbie Burns Day dinner including bagpipe, kilts and the reading of a Burns classic ”Ode To a Haggis”. And no Burns feast would be complete without the dish of choice, haggis.

The history of Scottish music in Canada has to be seen against a background of emigration, especially from the Highlands, which effectively started after the failure of the 1745 rebellion, intensified during the Victorian era, and has continued unabated.

Kenny MacLeanKenny MacLeanKenneth MacLean was a Scottish-Canadian musician, best known as a member of the multi-platinum selling band Platinum Blonde. MacLean had a big influence in getting Platinum Blonde back together after a 20-year absence, but he wouldn't live to see it come to fruition. MacLean had commented to Platinum Blonde's lead singer Mark Holmes “hundreds of times” that Platinum Blonde should re-unite. In November 2008, Holmes took up MacLean's long-standing offer to make a guest appearance at one of his shows at the Mod Club in Toronto, a club founded by Holmes, and they performed a collection of Platinum Blonde hits. Sadly, MacLean passed away merehours after the show that night of what was believed to be a massive heart attack.  His third solo CD, Completely, was released at a concert three days before his death. The MacLean family recently released ‘Straight From the Heart’ CD. For your free download of Kenny Maclean last CD log on to: Glasgow-born MacLean never lost his accent or the dry Scottish sense of humour.

Alexander Muir was a songwriter, school principal, poet and was born in  Lesmahagow, near Lanark, Scotland, on April 5, 1830, His parents settled, when he was three, in Scarborough Township, east of Toronto, and although Muir's musical activities were on an amateur level, they were strongly emphasized along with athletics and patriotism during his teaching career. He wrote words and music for several patriotic songs including the famous 'The Maple Leaf For Ever' in 1867.

Alan FrewAlan FrewCanada boasts 1 in 5 of every Canadian has Scottish roots, and the music business has plenty to show of that. Johnny Reid, Murray McLaughlan, David Francey,  Many of them still embrace their heritage and have been known to proudly wear tartan and kilts in performances.

Alan Frew of Glass Tiger fame is a is a 5-time Juno Award winner, 5-time Canadian Classic Award winner and a Grammy nominee. As a songwriter, Alan has written numerous top ten songs with several of them having the distinction of reaching the chart topping #1 position. Someday, So Blind, I’m Still Searching and Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone) are just some of these hits.  Most recently Alan has written the 2010 Olympic Broadcast Theme called “I Believe” and the new Toronto Maple Leafs theme called “Free to Be (This is Canada’s Song)” both with Stephan Moccio. “I Believe” has set new records in Canada and the United States in reaching the coveted #1 spot in break-neck time and has been awarded quadruple platinum status.  Alan remains one of the most recognized Canadian celebrities to this day and still one of the hardest working artists in the business.

One Name One Kilt Gowan Photo Credit Andrew ClowaterOne Name One Kilt Gowan Photo Credit Andrew ClowaterOne such artist who came over the pond from Glasgow, Scotland as a wee one is (Lawrence) Gowan of “Strange Animal” fame and presently lead singer for Styx. On October 13, 2013 the ‘Strange Animal’ with a ‘Criminal Mind’ came back to his hometown to play a solo concert at a sold out venue, and was fully kilted Up as One Name One Kilt with a sold out performance that had all proceeds donated to  McDermott House, a charitable organization started by longtime friend and fellow entertainer, John McDermott.  Held at the prestigious Glenn Gould Studio, located in the CBC, In Kilt Tonight was a sold out affair and showed Larry Gowan still has a huge fan base in Canada.The show was a one man band, other than the fact he honoured his Glaswegian heritage by having a group of Highland dancers run through the aisles to Scotland the Brave, decked out in kilts and leather jackets, featuring Meghan Bold, and the Bold Step Dancers.

Bold Step Come Into the KitchenBold Step Come Into the KitchenThe Bold Step Dancers are part of a stage production called ‘Come Into the Kitchen’ which is a Celtic Canadiana Celebration, featuring Don Graham, Rory Sinclair and Stephanie Miletic, combining country songs, step dancing, highland, bagpipes and fiddle. The show re-creates the Canadian tradition of holding parties in the kitchen, where friends and neighbours gather to enjoy songs from Scotland and Ireland.

Bruce GuthroBruce GuthroEast Coaster Bruce Guthro, of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, went back to his Scottish roots in 1998 to front the amazing Runrig who had a big hit with a remake of ‘Loch Lomond’. Guthro is an artist who has captivated audiences around the world with his honest, straight-to-the-heart songwriting and live performances that are as engaging and personal as the man himself. Troubadour and storyteller, Bruce's music gets to the heart of the matter, and his success can be attributed to his ability to connect with his audience. Along with his solo career, Bruce has also been, for the past ten years, lead singer for the Scottish super group Runrig, which has a strong following in Europe and continues to grow internationally.

John McDermottJohn McDermottOf course, our best known Canadian with a Celtic heart, is John McDermott, also from Glasgow, Scotland, this talented tenor has both Irish and Scottish blood in his lineage, and sells out internationally wherever he goes. At the Beach Celtic Festival, in Toronto, Canada 2013, thousands of fans watched as ‘McDee’ performed his signature song ‘Danny Boy’. You could actually hear the leaves rustle as his strong voice delivered the lament to a last whisper. A promise to his family to be grateful for his successes, McDermott carries the torch for the veterans and many other causes. To learn more about how this performer gives back visit

The amazing thing about Scottish roots is they just grow stronger as you get older. It seems it matters more where we came from as we age, and thanks to performers like Gowan, McDermott, Guthro and the pipers, dancers and fiddlers who continue to perform the songs from Scotland, the traditions stayed firmly planted on Canadian soil.

So Happy Robbie Burns Day and Lang May Your Lum Reek!!