Robert L. Burton
REV. ROBERT L. BURTON
February 20, 1932 - December 24, 2021
Reverend Robert Lawrence Burton passed away peacefully with family by his side, in the St. Boniface General Hospital, on Christmas Eve.
He was born at Croll, Manitoba, near Boissevain on February 20th, 1932. He was predeceased by his wife Margaret, his grandson Mark Burton, and Marg’s parents Jack and Grace Huhn, as well as by his parents Charles and Edna Burton (nee Plunkett), his siblings Bernice (Campbell), Clair, Alan, Keith, Lyle, and Floyd, his brothers-in-law Glen Campbell, Garth Seafoot, Ellis Percy, and Gary Simmons, and his sister-in-law Joan Jardine. He is survived by his children Bob (Penny Schwalm), Cathy, Doug, Lisa, and Roslynne (Ryan Willer), his grandchildren Tara (Jordan Moreau), Ethan Burton, and Kaspir Willer, his great-granddaughter Charlotte (Moreau), his siblings Wilma Seafoot, Frank Burton (Sandra), and Jean Percy, his sisters/brothers-in-law Judy Burton, Catherine and Frank Wenski, John Huhn, and Grace Simmons, as well as beloved cousins and many nieces and nephews.
The event of his birth yields a tale that one might find in a Sinclair Ross short story, literally one from another era. Born during the Depression on a cold day in February on the farm, there was concern for the health of both mother and newborn. The doctor was summoned and arrived in a cutter out at the house that morning where he was met by Frances Hudson, a nurse. Life-threatening complications arose, and mother and child fought to survive. In many ways, this first struggle captures some of the essence of Robert's life story.
Life on the farm in the 1930s and 1940s was not easy, but the family dealt with each day in stride. With so many little ones and too few beds, Charlie and Edna opened the dresser drawers at night to make cribs for the "wee babes," as Grandma used to say. Somehow, everyone found a place to sleep. Robert (Bob to his family and friends) and brother Clair slept on the pull-out Toronto Couch in the parlour. Bob and his siblings rode to the one-room schoolhouse in the horse and buggy which sister Bernice drove skillfully. There was always much to do on the farm and the siblings helped as they could. In winter, the boys played shinny hockey on the slough. At 15, Bob was a member of the Jr. B Hockey Provincial Championship Team. A bad back put an end to his hockey life. Bob eventually boarded with a family in the town of Boissevain and was able to earn his high school diploma.
Working up north in Flin Flon after graduation in the early 1950s, Bob was able to save enough money to buy his parents their first refrigerator, one that, it is worth noting, still runs and is housed in his nephew Bill’s barn. Bob also earned enough to attend the University of Manitoba. While he initially wanted to study architecture, he had to admit that his calculus skills were lacking. It was then that he turned his attention to agriculture.
While working as a soils specialist, Bob met Margaret Huhn, a young school teacher, when they were members of the Student Christian Movement. Before long, the two were smitten with each other. On August 3rd, 1957 they married at Pine Falls, Manitoba, Marg's hometown.
Bob spent five years with the Soils and Crops Branch of the Department of Agriculture in both Winnipeg and Brandon. Eventually recognizing that being a soils specialist was not his true calling, Bob turned his attention to theology, which he studied at United College in Winnipeg where he earned his Masters of Divinity degree. He was an active member of Presbytery and over his thirty years as a rural minister with the United Church of Canada, he worked at pastoral charges in Clandeboye, Riding Mountain and area, Portage la Prairie, Binscarth and Foxwarren, Rivercrest, Birds Hill, Little Britain, and finally Koostatak (Fisher River) in the Interlake.
Bob, Marg and their five children spent many summers camping and canoeing. They also spent weeks at Grandma and Grandpa Huhn's cottage along the Winnipeg River in the summer, where many precious memories were made with Margaret's siblings, nieces and nephews, and cabin neighbours. The family also loved visiting Grandma and Grandpa Burton and many relatives in Boissevain. Listening to his mom chord on the piano while his dad and uncle played the fiddle is something he appreciated both as a lapsed violinist and as someone who had grown up with this type of entertainment on the farm. Boissevain is where he connected with his large family--his dear aunts and uncles, his siblings, their children, and friends he'd grown up with.
Bob maintained lifelong friendships with those he met at university and those he met through his art, through sports, and through the ministry. Perhaps that's one measure of who he was as a man. He was someone his friends could count on. In the days following his passing, they commented on how kind he was and how much he meant to them. Whether it was golfing with his buddies on summer mornings or curling with them over the cold winter months, he enjoyed their company and the chance to compete in two sports that he loved. Until a few years ago, he was youngest member (at 86) of the oldest curling team to compete in The Friars’ Briar. It was important for Bob to do what he loved with the friends that he cherished.
Bob’s journey to becoming an accomplished amateur artist was years in the making. At eight or nine he received a watercolour set for Christmas. He remembered adding some water to the yellow pigment and brushing the paper. The intensity so impressed him that in that moment he became hooked on art. He sketched and drew prolifically from an early age as well. He honed his skills whilst drawing flora and fauna in his grade eight science notebook, which he submitted to the Boissevain Fair. It was there that Manitoba Premier Garson took notice of the budding artist. He was so impressed with Bob’s skill that he sent a personal letter to the family advocating that Bob pursue art in the future.
While he did not make art his career, it was Bob’s passion. He had a few mentors along the way; the earliest was the Canadian artist Ivan Eyre. Bob first met Ivan while they were both studying at the University of Manitoba in the 1950s. They were in residence together and became better acquainted through their mutual interest in art. Bob eventually took six classes with Ivan when the latter was teaching Fine Arts at Brandon University in the late ‘50s. It was he who gave him his most valuable advice: go to the galleries. During the summers of 1973 and 1974, Bob had the opportunity to study with the Canadian realist painter Jack Chambers at the Banff School of Fine Arts. From him he learned composition and unity. From Jack,
he learned how to paint using photographs. In the late 1990s, Bob attended classes with the American water-colourist, Christopher Schink. The speed with which Schink was able to paint is something Bob took away as a lesson for applying similar techniques when using acrylics, which later became his medium of choice.
The valued instruction of these artists, along with countless hours spent in galleries in Canada, the U.S., Italy, France, England, and Scotland, inspired Bob to explore a variety of media, techniques, and themes. He worked on landscapes, abstracts, and portraits. His work was eclectic. Over the years, he experimented with found art (or “junk art” as his wife Margaret used to say), turning things found on the side of the road or down the back alley into a sculpture or painting. He worked with birch bark and cedar, as well as parts from pianos that he dismantled. His wife Margaret was very supportive of his hobby but could also be a trusted and helpful critic of partially completed works that, in her opinion, might have been missing something in the foreground or were perhaps too dark in value. Theirs was a partnership in more ways than one.
As much as Bob enjoyed making art, he also loved learning about it. When he found a painter he liked, he read voraciously about the artist’s life and his/her technique. Then, he completed numerous paintings in that style. His favourite artists were the Canadian David Milne, American Louise Nevelson, Swiss-born Paul Klee, and French painter Paul Cezanne. He liked artists who broke from convention.
During the pandemic and as he approached his 90s, he tried to paint every day. He would often say, “Art helps me to relax. While there are problems to solve on the canvas, I know the answer will come. It will work out in the end.” And so it did. We who knew and loved him have his paintings on our walls as proof. He was a brilliant artist, a wonderful friend, and a compassionate minister. As his family, we never doubted that he loved us. We, in turn, loved him tremendously and will miss him dearly.
A service and interment will take place in the summer when all can gather safely. In the meantime, Bobs family kindly requests that his friends and relatives take a few minutes to honour his memory by watching the photo-biography above. Please, also consider sharing your own photos and/or sharing your own memories and stories using the comment section on this page.
The family wishes to thank the staff at the Palliative Care Unit at St. Boniface Hospital.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in memory of Bob may be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation or to the CNIB.
Memories, Stories and Condolences
Please share a story, photo, memory or condolences for the family by completing the form below and click "comment".