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Memorial University of Newfoundland - Digital Archives Initiative

United Church Archives - Rev. Dr. Lester Burry Photograph Collection

Lester Burry Photograph Collection

Scope and Content
Collection consists of four series. Series 1, (1933-1969, predominant 1933-1959), comprises a large number of still images, in photographic, 35 mm and lantern slide format, as well as two 16 mm film reels. Some of the 35 mm slides have been numbered and have accompanying title descriptions. Series 2 contains personal and church papers as well as correspondence and notes about his ministry (1921-1977, predominant 1933-1957). Series 3 consists of medals, awards and certificates ([192-]-1969). Series 4 comprises six sound recordings in audio cassette format, which includes voice overs for slide presentations, interviews of Rev. Burry and other material. The accompanying slides to the voice overs had not been indicated in the slide arrangement at the time of acquisition Much of the textual material has been arranged by Rev. Hector Swain when he was preparing a thesis for his Master of Divinity Degree (1979). Most of Rev. Burry’s papers have been numbered and indexed by Rev. Swain. Integrated in Rev. Burry’s papers is other material that Rev. Swain used in his thesis research. Some of the material indexed is missing. There are other miscellaneous papers which had not been arranged by Rev. Swain and these have now been placed into files based on their content. The graphic images were Rev Burry’s “working papers”. His graphic images were a teaching tool. They were used for presentations and lectures. As a result of this approach, the order of the images necessarily changed day to day as his requirements for particular images in his collection changed . The order in which they have been described appear to be the way in which Rev. Burry had organized the material prior to their acquisition. The file titles come from Rev. Burry’s labels of some of his images.

Dates of creation: 1931-1977; predominant 1933-1957
Physical description: 40 cm textual material, 5 medals and awards, 65 photos, 550 35mm slides, 45 lantern slides, 2 - 16 mm film reels, 6 sound recordings

Biography
Rev. Dr. Lester Leland Burry was born on July 12, 1898 in Safe Harbour, Bonavista Bay to parents Stephen and Marie (Bourne) Burry. His early schooling was done at both Safe Harbour and nearby Greenspond. Like many other boys at that time, as a teenager he would travel to Labrador with his father and brothers in their own schooner to participate in the summer cod fishery, returning home to Bonavista Bay at the end of the season. As a young man, Burry left Newfoundland to study Arts and Theology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. After his graduation in 1923, he returned to his home province and was ordained as a Methodist minister at Gower St. United Church in St. John’s on June 30, 1924. He was assigned the pastoral charge of St. Anthony, where he spent the first four years of his career in the ministry. It was in St. Anthony that he met his wife, Amelia Marie Penney, a local school teacher. The two were married on September 4, 1928. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Curling, where Rev. Burry had been transferred, and spent the next year there. In 1930, he was again transferred, and this time the Burrys moved to Little Bay Islands. Not long after this, he was asked to serve a three-year term in the Hamilton Inlet Mission in Labrador. Little did he know when he decided to take the position, but this is where he and his wife would live and work for the next 26 years. Rev. Burry is perhaps best remembered for his work in Labrador. When they first arrived in 1931, the Hamilton Inlet Mission was one of the largest geographically in Canada, comprising the 100-mile inlet area and extending along the coast for another 200 miles. Northwest River was the base of operations for the mission, and it was here that Rev. Burry and his wife resided. The Burrys demonstrated their commitment to the Mission early on by living in a log cabin while waiting for the local church to be built – Rev. Burry refused to begin work on a proper manse until the church’s construction was complete. Serving this pastoral charge was particularly challenging. It covered a large area and had such a sparse population living in isolated communities. In the summertime, Rev. Burry would visit the various settlements by mission boat, the Glad Tidings, which he himself designed. The harsher winter months saw him making the trip via dogsled or, during the last 8 years of his work in Labrador, in a large snow machine. It took seven weeks twice a year for Rev. Burry to visit all the members of his charge,

These experiences made Rev. Burry highly sensitive of the needs of the isolated trappers in Labrador, who were often dozens of miles away from their families for many months of the year. With these people in mind, he applied for and received two radio licences from the Newfoundland government: one to operate a church broadcast, and the other for amateur radio purposes. He obtained a surplus radio transmitter from the American air base in Goose Bay and built crystal radio sets and earphones for the trappers. On Sunday evenings, the trappers could tune in to the Church broadcast, and on Tuesday evenings women could talk with their husbands and friends on the trap lines. Burry eventually expanded this service so that it reached fishing schooners, coastal communities, lighthouse keepers, traders and clerks at Hudson Bay Company outposts. Sunday School classes began receiving regular Church broadcasts. Rev. Burry’s legacy in this part of the province extended further. He was the first person to be elected to represent Labrador in a political capacity when he was chosen as the Labrador representative at the National Convention in 1946. He handily defeated the four other candidates, receiving 63% of the votes cast. He was in a minority of pro-confederates among the 45 representatives chosen from across Newfoundland and Labrador chosen to sit at the Convention, and was part of the 7 person delegation sent to Ottawa to assess the option of Confederation with Canada. As the representative for the only part of the soon-to-be province that shared a border with mainland Canada, Dr. Burry’s voice was of particular importance. He raised issues such as the development of the agriculture and mining industries in Labrador, lent his support of interdenominational education, and brought attention to the poor state of Labrador’s postal services. However, when asked by Joseph R. Smallwood to become the Liberal Candidate for Labrador North in 1956, Burry declined as he remained committed to his missionary work with the United Church. He did attend the official opening of the Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Development and witnessed the beginnings of iron ore mining in Labrador. His work in Hamilton Inlet ended in 1957, following which he served the charge of Clark’s Beach for two years before moving to St. John’s in 1959, where he would spend the remainder of his life.

In St. John’s, Rev. Burry became chaplain to the hospitals and institutions for the United Church, a position he held for four years. He became Minister Emeritus at Cochrane St. United Church and served on this church’s Board of Session. In addition, he was Chairman of the St. John’s Presbytery of the United Church of Canada in 1958-59 , and President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Conference of the United Church of Canada for 1959-60. Rev. Burry retired from active ministry in 1963.

Rev. Burry was an avid gardener, photographer (contributing in the 1950s to Maclean’s magazine’s first colour photographs in the August 1951 issue were taken by him), amateur radio operator, and staunch supporter of the John Howard Society. In 1955, he visited the Holy Lands through the Macpherson bequest. During his lifetime, Rev. Burry was recognized for his contributions to missionary work in Labrador by way of a Doctorate of Theology from Pine Hill Theological College, Halifax and was made a member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian society more generally (1969). Quite fittingly, in 1975 the town of Happy Valley, Labrador named one of its streets “Burry Crescent” in honour of his contribution to Labrador. Rev. Burry died on August 31, 1977 in St. John’s.

Background on the United Church

The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada with close to 3 million people in over 3500 congregations across the country. The United Church was inaugurated on June 10, 1925 in Toronto, Ontario, when the Methodist Church, Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, and 70 per cent of the Presbyterian Church in Canada entered into a union. Joining as well was the small General Council of Union Churches, centred largely in Western Canada. It was the first union of churches in the world to cross historical denominational lines and hence received international acclaim. Impetus for the union arose out of the concerns for serving the vast Canadian northwest and in the desire for better overseas mission. Each of the uniting churches, however, had a long history prior to 1925.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Conference is one of 13 United Church conferences across Canada. The oversight of the life and work of the approximately 200 congregations is exercised by the East and West Districts, while Conference co-ordinates and oversees matters that effect the combined interests of the two Districts.





For more information see:
http://www.united-church.ca/history/overview/brief
http://www.newlabconf.com/

United Church of Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador
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