Saturday is Robert Burns’ 255th birthday. In 1928, a memorial to this celebrated Scottish poet was dedicated in Stanley Park. It was the first statue erected in Vancouver.
In February 1924, inspired by a recently published critical analysis of Burns’ work, the Vancouver Burns Fellowship was formed to encourage the study of Burns’ life and works and the singing of his songs. The group also hoped to erect a statue of Burns in Stanley Park.
The original caption for the above image reads:
Above are the enthusiastic Burnsians selected as original executive of Burns Fellowship. In the minds of these men the thought of a worthy memorial assumed practical shape, and it is largely as a result of their whole-hearted endeavors that such a magnificent memorial has been erected. Several of the original members are still on the executive, including the President, the Hon. Secretary, and the Hon. Secretary of the Statue Fund.
Reading from left (Front row) Rev. Alex. Thomson, James Taylor (Hon. Secretary of Statue Fund), P. McA. Carrick (President), Alex. McRae (Vice-President), and A. Fraser Reid (Hon. Secretary of Fellowship). (Back row) David Murray, John Macdonald and John MacInnes.
In October 1924, the Fellowship approached the Vancouver Scottish Choir and the Scottish Orchestra to help with fundraising for the statue. On August 22, 1925, they started their fundraising with a music festival at the Brockton Oval that raised over $100 in spite of the weather. Fundraising continued with a wide variety of activities including whist drives, dances, more music festivals and sales of pamphlets and buttons.
Attempts were made to commission an original statue but the organization thought that the designs submitted did not look enough like Robert Burns. They decided to purchase a replica of the Burns statue designed by George Lawson in Ayr, Scotland. The cost was $5,000, and the statue was shipped from England to Vancouver via the Panama Canal.
A further $2,000 was raised to create a granite pedestal for the 9-foot bronze figure. The pedestal was created in Vancouver by Patterson and Chandler and is set with 4 bronze panels.
The unveiling ceremony was August 25, 1928 and was followed by dinner at the Aztec Room of the Hotel Georgia.
The Right Honourable Ramsay MacDonald, ex-Prime Minister of Britain, arrived by train that day with his three daughters. It has been reported that a large crowd welcomed him in spite of his arrival time of 7:30am. He was, coincidentally, in Canada on vacation and agreed to unveil the monument.
The unveiling ceremony featured music by the pipe band of the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders and the Vancouver Scottish Choir. The proceedings were broadcast using loudspeakers so that the crowd, estimated at 10-12,000, could hear the program. Motion picture films were made of the ceremony and later shown in theatres in Vancouver and across Canada. A court stenographer created a verbatim record of the proceedings, which is reproduced in Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns.
Sixteen different organizations laid wreaths at the foot of the monument. Attached to the wreath from the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society of North Vancouver was this poem by W.S. Mitchell:
O Robin, could ye see the day
When buirdly Scots in great array,
On Britain’s shores that face Cathay
Your memory mark
Wi’ nine fit bronze, on granite base,
Such as the toon o’ Ayr doth grace;
Wi’ Presidents you’ve got your place
In Stanley Park.
And there, where wanton breezes stir
The stately taps o’ Douglas fir,
Midst scent o’ roses and o’ myrrh
You stand on guard—
A monument, a mark a guide
To those wha walk and those wha ride,
That Scotsmen tak’ an unco pride
In Coila’s bard.
Born in a humble theekit cot,
With hardship for they earthly lot,
Perchance thy Muse had little thought
To live aince mair
In hearts o’ men the humble flower
And Patriot Bard, whose rhyme has power
To banish care.
Three hundred people attended the banquet that evening, entering the room to the sound of bagpipes. The proceedings—speeches, songs and toasts—were broadcast on radio station CKWX. They are recorded in Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns.
Enjoy Robbie Burns Day!