|Date of Birth||March 4, 1890|
|Place of Birth||Woodston, Peterborough|
|Next of Kin||Nora Burnham, wife, Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Steam Fitter|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||No 5 District, Jura Group|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Forestry Corps|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||March 20, 1917|
|Age at Enlistment||27|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||March 13, 1969|
|Age at Death||79|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
John Richard Burnham was born on 4 March 1890 in Woodston on the outskirts of Peterborough in England. His father James was from Woodston while his mother Charlotte Parrott was from nearby Longthorp, another community on the outskirts of Peterborough. The couple had married in 1875 in Chapeltown, Yorkshire. Over the years James’ occupation was listed as maltster’s labourer, first in Longthorp where children born to the family were Sarah (b 1876), Levi (b 1878), Emma (b 1880), Alice (b 1882), Fanny (b 1885), and George (1886) and then in Woodston where they gave birth to three more children, Charlotte (b 1888), John, and James (b 1892). The couple had also given birth to a child that had died before the 1911 England census.
Along with Ernest Spendlow, John was found on the passenger list of the Virginia that arrived in Halifax on 11 March 1911, destination given as Kenora, Ontario. With a number of other young fellows from the Peterborough area who came to be known locally as ‘the Peterborough Boys’, John gained employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway as a wiper and lived at the YMCA across the street from the Kenora train station. Built by the CPR and then turned over to the YMCA, the building had two full floors of rooms capable of housing 65 men. It had a restaurant, billiard room, a reading and writing room, and in the basement a two lane bowling alley, a gym area for boxing, washrooms, and showers. Outside there was an area for lawn bowling as well as tennis courts.
On 5 April 1915, in Winnipeg, John married Mary Nora Elizabeth Wherrett. Born in 1884 in Bath, England, Nora was the daughter of Irish born parents, William and Mary (née Mullin) Wherrett. Nora had trained as a nurse in London before immigrating to Canada.
A Kenora newspaper article of October of 1914 listed John as having applied to serve with the 98th Battalion but attestation papers were not found nor any evidence of service. With occupation given as steamfitter and his wife Nora as next of kin, John signed his attestation papers in Winnipeg on 20 March 1917. With the 2nd Forestry Draft of the Canadian Forestry Corps, John embarked from Halifax on 1 May 1917, taken on strength with the CFC Base Depot at Sunningdale upon his arrival in England.
In early July John was posted to the No 50 Company, CFC (No 5 District, Jura Group), arriving in France on the 10th. ‘The Canadian Forestry Corps provided lumber for the Allied war effort by cutting and preparing timber in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe. Forestry units also cleared terrain for the construction of installations such as airfields and runway, prepared railway ties, as well as lumber for the creation of barracks, road surfaces, ammunition crates, trench construction, etc. These units were sometimes called on in the First World War to perform as infantry.’ (canadiansoldiers.com)
John was granted a 14 day leave in early March of 1918 followed by a second leave to Paris in late November. By the end of January 1919 he was back in England and returned to Canada aboard the Belgic, embarking from Liverpool on the 23rd of February. He was discharged due to demobilization in Winnipeg on the 3rd of April.
During the war Nora had stayed in Kenora and administered to the ill during the influenza epidemic in 1918. Sadly she died on 2 March 1921 in Kenora. John was found on the 1921 Canada census lodging at the YMCA and working as a ‘helper’ for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He travelled to England in February of 1922, returning to Kenora in May.
On 17 March 1930, in Winnipeg, John married Pearl Isabel Scherk, widow of the late Richard Scherk who had died in Kenora in 1925. Pearl, the daughter of Russian immigrant Henry Wyse and New Brunswicker wife Janet (Jennie) Thompson, was born in 1901 in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora).
John retired from the CPR as a stationery fireman in 1954. He was a member of St Alban’s Pro Cathedral, the International Association of Machinists and Aero Workers Lodge No 122 Winnipeg, and the Kenora Branch of the Canadian Legion. He was very active in sports, including football and cricket, as well as the local political circles.
John died on 13 May 1969 at the Pinecrest Home for the Aged in Kenora. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Pearl, a sister back in England, and nephew Jack McCoombes of Kenora. Pearl died in 1981 and is interred with John in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora.
John is commemorated on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.
John’s friend Ernest Spendlow also served in France during the war, enlisting with the 52nd Battalion in Kenora in May of 1915. He returned to Kenora after the war.
by Judy Stockham
The Peterborough Boys photos: Lake of the Woods Museum Archives and Stan Clark, Common Grounds, Stories of Lake of the Woods
YMCA photo: University of Toronto