Phyllis (Davidson) Burke



Life and Work

One of the most interesting times of Phyllis Burke's life took place in the 1960s. Her husband, Dave, made the decision to embark on an entirely new career, one which meant he would have to further his education.

The oldest of the Burkes' children, Corliss, was taking Grade 12 at Sundre School when her dad became a pupil in the same grade. Dave graduated, went on to university and then became a teacher at Olds school.

To provide financial support, Phyllis purchased the local Variety and Gift Store, and for 14 years ran a lucrative business, while at the same time raising five children, the youngest born after the store was purchased.

Each week, Phyllis drove to Calgary where she placed orders with 8 to 10 wholesalers. Small items she brought home in her vehicle, while large ones arrived at the store via Sundre Transport. It was a career born out of necessity, but by the time the business was sold, Phyllis had proved herself to be a highly capable businesswoman.


The Burke Family Life by Lillian McGonigal

When Dave Burke returned from overseas in 1945, we were all so happy when he started courting Phyllis Davidson. They both had a good sense of humour, and were fun to be with. Phyllis was steady and reliable, and the two were married in 1947. They had five children - three girls and two boys - and while the children were all still at home, for health reasons, Dave decided to leave the hardware store and return to school, and university. One year, Phyllis had her daughter and her husband finishing high school the same year. Then came university which meant several years away from home, and just occasional weekends at home.

They owned the Variety & Gift Shop in Sundre, and Phyllis accepted full responsibility through those years, dealing with customers, employees, and weekly trips to Calgary, filling orders from the wholesalers to supply the store with merchandise. Phyllis kept the home fires burning, and with the help of Mrs. Adams kept the children on track, one starting school, all the way up to two teenagers. There were the music lessons, CGIT, Boy Scouts, and all the activities of a normal active family with only a part-time dad.

Phyllis accepted this responsibility gracefully, and worked very hard to keep things running smoothly.

When Dave graduated in 1971 as a fully qualified industrial arts teacher, it certainly was a team effort, and Dave is the first to credit Phyllis for her loyalty and support through the years."

A Friend's Memory by Bessie Heaton Ellithorpe

Although there was an age difference of six years between Phyllis Davidson and me, we often played together because there just weren't very many children in Sundre in the 1920s. My very first recollection of Phyllis was when I was invited to her second birthday party.

Our parents - the Davidsons and the Heatons - and a third couple, the Pete Nielsens, always spent the Victoria Day and Labour Day holidays together at Banff, and this, plus the fact that Phyllis's mother had worked for the same creamery company which owned the Sundre Creamery, served to bring us together. My dad, Joe Heaton, operated the creamery in Sundre.

The time I will never forget happened when a clinic was held for children of Sundre and surrounding district, and those children needing tonsillectomies had their tonsils removed. Phyllis and I, fortunately, were not among the patients that day, but we knew that holes had been dug to bury the removed tonsils. We searched and searched, but couldn't find any.

Other pastimes included paddling in the Bearberry Creek, or making believe delivering cream with a little hand pulled wagon. I remember John Ross joined in this game. Through the years we attended the arena dances, and enjoyed the same circle of friends. Then in later years, in the 1980s, when my husband Nate and I spent winters in Arizona or California, we were often joined by Phyllis and her husband, Dave Burke. Altogether, our friendship has spanned more than 70 years now.

Memory of Phyllis Burke by Lesley Munns

Today, Sundre is a thriving town with a population of over 2000. When Margaret and Walter R. Davidson moved to the Eidswold district with their young daughter, Phyllis, there were just eight families living in Sundre - the Caldwells, blacksmith Lum Sheets and family, Alice and Ralph Ellithorpe with their nine children, the Howard Steens with Lola and Charlie, garage owner Chris Sheets, the Heatons, the Ellis Sheets, and Sundre's founders, Mr. and Mrs. N.T. Hagen.

At the time of his daughter's birth, Walter Davidson was employed at Lintick's, his cousin's butcher shop in Calgary, while Margaret Davidson worked at Pete Pallison's Creamery. Phyllis was a year old when the family moved to Eidswold, to a home east of the school, which they named "Moses" because they were far from any settlement! Walter's father, Jack Davidson, lived half a mile to the west of them; his grandfather, John D. Davidson, lived even closer.

The following year, Walter moved his family again, this time to what had formerly been the Hagen house, located where Forget-Me-Not Flowers now stands. The Davidson home accommodated Walter's butcher shop, and Phyllis can remember that her dad did his butchering on the bank of the nearby creek, presumably because of the unlimited supply of clean water.

When she was four or five years old, the Davidsons moved to the west side of the Bearberry Bridge, and Walter rented a quarter-section of land to the south of them to be used as pasture for a few cows. Margaret Davidson put the cows to good use, selling milk and cream to the townspeople of Sundre. At first she had sales for six quarts only, but soon this increased and she was able to deliver 20 quarts daily.

Phyllis recalls their home was an old log house consisting of three rooms - a combined kitchen and living room and two bedrooms. The house boasted a feature Phyllis had never seen elsewhere - a Red Riding Hood latch, worked by pulling on a string on the outside of the door which raised the latch to open it; when the string was released, the latch dropped back to close the door. When Phyllis was seven, her mother became pregnant, and Phyllis was really concerned about that door latch. With no knob in place, how would the stork be able to leave the new bundle? But leave it he did, except that Leslie arrived in Calgary. The trip home was a hard one for Margaret Davidson. The roads were atrocious, she had to stop to feed the baby, and having had nothing to eat or drink since leaving the city, she arrived home feeling really weak.

The baby was a much-loved addition to the family, but shortly before his fourth birthday he became very ill. Seriously concerned for their son, the Davidsons had Charlie Hodges fly the nearest doctor to Sundre from his home at Didsbury. He pronounced the sickness as being a case of measles, and assured the couple the boy would get better. Within a few hours, he was dead. The tragedy of his loss was one from which the Davidsons never fully recovered.

Phyllis thinks she was perhaps eight or nine years old when she was taken to a clinic being held at Sundre Hall. Children throughout the district were taken to have teeth and tonsils checked, and if necessary, removed. The scene, she says, resembled a slaughterhouse! She saw the Gambles bringing all of their children to the clinic in a wagon box, and each one lay down in the wagon after having their tonsils removed, to make the journey home again, jostling over the rough track. Phyllis was one of the fortunates not needing a tonsillectomy, but when the clinic ended, she and her friend Bessie Heaton made a point of going to the slope behind the hall where the removed tonsils had been buried!

When Phyllis began attending school, she was a pupil at McDougal Flat, a distance of 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometres) from her home. She had seldom had the opportunity to ride a horse, but her uncle gave her a horse that was pastured on the range, one he seldom used. So Phyllis rode the horse to school, falling off many times. One time she was embarrassed to be picked up out of the ditch by J.R. Jackson, the travelling minister. It wasn't until the 1990s that Phyllis learned that Harold Gochee used to clean the stall in which her horse stood during school hours. It was something she just didn't think about. Harold asked her how she thought the horse would have room to stand if no one cleaned the stall! In winter, if Phyllis walked to school, she tried to stay on the drifts beside the road which were packed hard, although occasionally she fell through. She remembers often arriving at the schoolhouse with frozen eyelashes.

Phyllis continued at McDougall Flat until she completed Grade 6, when her father built a store at Clearwater, under the skilled guidance of Jack Davidson. While the building was in progress, Margaret and Phyllis looked after the farm. Then they moved to living quarters above the store, which was operated by owner Ches Simpson. Supplies were brought from Calgary or Rocky Mountain House, and as always, the roads were terrible.

At Clearwater, Phyllis attended Wooler School, which was 4 1/2 miles (7 kilometres) from her home. In summer she rode horseback, but in winter she was one of three students who hitched a sled to their dog, the dogs being tied in the school barn by day. Phyllis made her own dog harness, using canvas and string. The dog sleds were very reliable; one boy drove his all the way to Caroline to pick up flour when necessary, a 4 1/2 mile (7 kilometre) trip. As well as the sled in winter, Phyllis built a travois which the dog pulled in summer to haul firewood.

Phyllis remembers well the Browning family of Caroline, neighbours living a mere mile and a half away. She drove to their place in winter using the dog sled or rode horseback in summer. Other neighbours were Terry Long, his wife and his parents. Terry's father, who worked in a sawmill, died in the 1980s as the result of an unfortunate accident.

Two years after opening the Clearwater store, the Davidsons returned to the Highlands where Phyllis attended the Eidswold School. The house, now lived in by Olive and Norm Halvorson, was close enough to school that she was able to walk home for lunch.

By the mid-1940s the Davidsons had moved back to Sundre, living in the Dominy house next to Knott's Trading Post. It was a picturesque building, says Phyllis, with walls covered in black tarpaper with laths giving it a Tudor effect, and with an addition of a slab porch. Once more Walter opened a butcher shop, in a building owned by Ellis Sheets, which also housed a restaurant run by the Champagnes. Phyllis's main recollection of this period is of the coupons needed to purchase staples such as meat, butter and sugar. In 1954 the entire building was lost to a fire.

Wartime brought other shortages, such as trained teachers, many of whom had joined the armed forces, and so in some cases students were allocated lessons by correspondence, although they continued to attend classes, with a supervisor in charge. During 1945-46, Phyllis served as one of these supervisors, first at Rockwood School, later at McDougall Flat.

In 1945 Dave Burke returned to Sundre after serving overseas with the army in radar units. The following year, he was asked to be best man at the wedding of Mary Hendry and Louis Lund. Phyllis was Mary's maid of honour. The next year, 1947, Phyllis and Dave became bride and groom, settling down in the Burke house, now owned by Denise Bredin. Their first child, Corliss, was born in 1948. Leslie was born in 1952, Paul in 1956, Morton in 1960 and their last child, Brontie, arrived in 1964.

Margaret Davidson passed away in May 1956, and the new butcher shop Walter was building was finished after her death. Meanwhile, Dave had also gone into business, in partnership with his dad, Fred. Their store supplied the residents of Sundre with propane, building supplies and hardware, and was a successful enterprise for many years. When Dave and his dad finally decided the time had come to sell the business they retained ownership of the building.

The main reason for Dave wanting to opt out of the hardware business was that he had decided on an entirely new career. In 1966 he attended Sundre High School to complete his Grade 12. What made this memorable was that his daughter, Corliss, was in the same grade! Dave credits vice-principal Russ Matwychuk with being a tremendous help in his being able to achieve his goal. Dave then enrolled at the University of Alberta, at the age of 50. In 1971 Dave graduated with a B.Ed. degree, and then spent the next 13 years commuting to Olds, where he taught mathematics and industrial arts.

In 1960 Phyllis also branched out when she purchased the Variety and Gift Store (known locally as the V & G) on the corner of Centre Street from Arnold Hassler. The little store supplied towels, lingerie, school supplies and numerous other items to residents of Sundre and area for 14 years. It was then sold to Jack Valens, and when Dave was on vacation from school that summer, he and Phyllis spent the two months touring eastern Canada from Ontario to Newfoundland.

In 1984 the Burkes decided to spend their winters in the sunny south. They bought a motor home and spent happy winters in Arizona and California until 1989, when Dave fell victim to two unfortunate medical problems. On May 5, returning to Alberta, he broke his hip. Unable to drive, Sid Doyle joined the Burkes at Wenatchee, Washington, and drove them home. In the fall, in a brand new motor home and all set to go, Dave suffered an aneurysm, and all plans had to be scrapped. He was taken to Calgary by STARS air ambulance, where he remained for two months. He then spent a further two months in the Sundre Hospital. Although there were many times when the family doubted Dave would make a recovery, he is now leading a quiet but satisfying life in the home at Sundre's north end with Phyllis and his pet dog, Buttons.

Reminiscing about her early years, Phyllis recalls many people and events which were important to her life. She remembers the Indian women who always came to Sundre's Stampedes, and the moss bags in which they carried their babies on their backs. A big part of the early Stampedes were the chariot and chuck wagon races.

She remembers the big trout that were easy to catch in the Bearberry Creek, weighing three pounds or more. And she remembers building rock dams on the Red Deer River, then catching minnows with a gunny sack and wire beside the dam. She sold a syrup pail black with minnows to would-be fishermen for 25 cents a pail. If people came to the house wanting minnows, Phyllis would go and catch them.

Another memory of childhood days is the field where her dad grew potatoes and turnips. She and her mom and dad would fill many wagon boxes with turnips, all free of maggots or worms, and store them in their root cellar to be fed to one and all - pigs, cows or people, all enjoyed those turnips.

In the "middle years" Phyllis joined various organizations in Sundre. Since 1948 she has been a member of the United Church Women (UCW and in fact, prior to membership, she had been attending UCW meetings since 1943. She served three years as president of the organization. A number of years ago, Phyllis and Lillian McGonigal volunteered to be the Visiting Committee, and continue today to call on those who are sick or are confined to home.

When the Burke's daughter, Brontie, joined the Sundre Band as clarinetist, Phyllis joined the band committee, and spent a term as president. She also belonged to the local Home and School Association for a number of years.

The population of Sundre has expanded steadily since the 1950s, and Phyllis recalls there were years of constant bridal and baby showers. There was a continual demand for contributions to lunches for these functions. She says she would prepare baking and her children would ask, "Is that for us?" Mostly, it seemed, she had to tell them no, it was going elsewhere.

Her main memory of running the household during the V & G years is of the notes she was constantly leaving, some telling her kids what to do, others to remind the store staff of instructions to be carried out. It was a busy life, but Phyllis seemed to thrive on it.

The early days and the middle years are in the past now, but Phyllis sees the years slip by and sees Sundre continuing to grow, and knows that in her lifetime she has been witness to the growth of a wonderful community.