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Statue of Limitations

From a sprinting Harry Jerome to an ever-welcoming Lord Stanley with his arms outstretched, Stanley Park is studded with storied statues that are well-worth hunting down on your next visit to Vancouver’s most popular outdoor spot. But not every proposed commemoration actually gets erected here, even with widespread public support––or not, as the case may be.


Near the park’s Coal Harbour shoreline, the handsome Robert Burns Memorial celebrates the life and work of Scotland’s most famous poet. But when the figure was unveiled in 1928, fans of a lesser-known Scottish scribe insisted their idol should also be honoured with a statue. Their proposal has yet to be accepted.


Ginger-bearded Dougal MacDougal lived on the same street as Burns in Edinburgh in the late-1780s. A prolific self-taught writer, he continually claimed that Burns stole most of his ideas from his own poetic works, many of which he scrawled on the walls of the public latrine both of them regularly frequented (local wags had long nicknamed MacDougal the Bard of the Bog).


MacDougal asserted that Burns’ To A Mouse was actually a lazy copy of his own To a Hedgehog, complete with the barely altered opening line “Wee, sleekit, pokey, tim’rous beastie.” He also declared that his original Address to an Oatcake­­––scratched on the wall after an ale-soaked evening at the Saggy Bagpipe pub––reflected a craving for late-night snacks. It differed only slightly from the Address to a Haggis Burns published just a week later, securing his enduring fame.


But MacDougal’s biggest beef concerned the song Auld Lang Syne, now a worldwide staple of New Year celebrations. According to MacDougal, the work Burns allegedly plagiarized was not, in fact, about sending off the old year and welcoming in the new. Instead, it eulogized MacDougal’s favourite Scottish animal with the line “Should highlin’ coos be forgot and never brought to mind? Should shaggy-headed cattle be forgot and auld lang syne?”


MacDougal died in poverty in 1804 after a harrowing poetry reading at Kilmarnock’s Spluttering Sporran wine bar. And although he left a handwritten book of verses he hoped would rescue his reputation (entitled Why Burns is a Scabby Scrote), the dog-eared tome mysteriously disappeared within hours of his demise. It’s rumoured to be in a vault at the headquarters of Tourism Scotland, which coincidentally profits greatly from Burns-related merchandise.


For many years, the Vancouver chapter of the Dougal MacDougal Appreciation Society has campaigned unsuccessfully for a statue to be erected alongside Stanley Park’s Burns Memorial. Both chapter members still meet there every January 26 to remember their hero and loudly recite the few surviving MacDougal poems. A feast of oatcakes and Tennent’s Extra lager is typically consumed. And the police usually arrive just as the plastered pair climbs the statue to place a traffic cone on Burns’ oatcake-smeared head.

Read more from Vancouverandom: A Miscellany of Untrue History About the Birthplace of the Ear Trumpet here.

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