July 19, 1942 – July 4, 2023
After a prolonged and cranky battle with life, Robert (Bob) Edgar (Ed) Burns has circled the drain for the last time and succumbed to the sewer pipe. It’s okay to say that because he was actually a plumber by trade.
Survived by his long-suffering wife Saint Frances (Parcher) Burns; three exasperated children: Matt, Sarah (ex-husband Lupe who was witness to many of Bob’s shenanigans), and Allison (married to Tim who also witnessed much of the follies of Bob); and bemused grandchildren: Rylie, Noe, Tova, Jack, Ainsley, and our little gem Gemma who just wants to know where people go when they die.
Old Bob was famous for his exquisitely rough temperament and his ire for most people. But if he liked you, he liked you and there was no limit to how loyal he was to those friends.
Born somewhere in the middle of a French Canadian brood of 12 children, Bob started out life as Edgar – a scrawny, sharp-tongued devil of a kid who was scrappy from day one. He had to be, being red headed and left-handed in a dirt-poor French Canadian Catholic family in Sault Ste. Marie.
He made it through to about grade 7 fighting the nuns, then he found work pumping gas, until someone came along and offered him a job as a deckhand on a freighter ship. He spent some of his teenage years sailing around the Great Lakes and then was lucky enough to get hired on to the Algoma Central Railway… only to be fired on his 18th birthday for being drunk on the job.
Our intrepid anti-hero bounced back by joining the Canadian Army, which was probably the worst fit in history. He didn’t like being told what to do, so after spending more time peeling potatoes in KP than on the artillery fields, he decided the Army was not for him. He took off and went AWOL and ended up homeless on the mean streets of Vancouver, then Calgary, then Edmonton.
But the long arm of the Army law caught up with Bob one night in a bus station where they found him sleeping on a bench. This landed him in the Army pokey for a stint. While in jail, Bob excelled at hand-to-hand combat. When his sentence was done, the Army forced him to finish his two-year enlistment – a fate much worse than a dishonourable discharge for him. (Such was his family’s amusement at his time in the military, that they never could say “thank you for your service” without cracking a giggle.)
The next few years of Bob’s life are a bit hazy – in every sense. He told stories of living on the streets, in the bush, and on a commune somewhere out west. He was proudly a long-haired hippie – but not the peaceful kind of hippie. One who used to get “free showers” when being hosed off the steps of the Vancouver courthouse by fed-up firefighters.
At one point he landed back in Sault Ste. Marie and secured a job at the Steel Plant. But that, of course, was short-lived. Bob and fellow vagabond/lifelong friend Patty LeClair decided on a whim to up and quit one day and hop a train back to BC. They went right to Vancouver and were hired to work on the bridges of beautiful Vancouver Island. These were some of his happiest memories.
We are not sure how – probably after being fired again – but Bob ended up back in Sault Ste Marie in the early 1970s. At this point, he was introduced to Nurse Nightingale, Frances Parcher who hailed from the tiny town of Cobalt in Northern Ontario.
As a devout everything with an iron hand, Franny soon whipped Bob into goofy submission and in no time, she was pregnant, they were married, and were building their house in Gros Cap. They made a life there for the next thirty years.
Three kids were produced from the union of Bob and Fran. As you might imagine, they grew up with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
Bob worked as a plumber for a while after muscling his way through trade school and famously being told by a guy at the licensing authority that “over my dead body will you ever become a plumber”. Tenacious as he was, you could never tell Bob what to do - he would defy you at every turn. We’re not sure if the guy from the licensing authority ended up dead, but Bob did end up becoming a licensed plumber.
After working various construction jobs, Bob landed at the Abitibi Paper Mill (later St. Mary’s Paper) as a Pipefitter. Fran managed to keep him there for 22 years. No small feat given his infamous feisty temper and penchant for fighting with his superiors.
Bob’s longevity at the paper mill probably had a lot to do with what became known as “Ed’s shed” – a small shack in the back lot of the mill where Bob could lock himself in and, well, sleep.
You would know when he had a bad day at work – pretty much every day – when he came home cursing and yelling and then after dinner, went out to bang on some poor inanimate object in the garage. As Matt learned at a young age, Hell Hath No Fury Like A Dad Whose Tools Were Messed Up.
Bob also lived by the mantra: He Who Hath The Most Toys Wins, and accumulated a vast array of salvaged man-junk that cluttered the yard. He was known to have raced dirt bikes and snow machines in his younger days and rebuilt them from scrap parts when he was older - such was his zest for all things with engines. Bob was a talented mechanic, carpenter, and woodworker and he could pretty much fix anything that didn’t have emotions.
On weekends, Bob would bring the family up to the camp on Achigan Lake. It was a true camp – no electricity, no anything – not even a road to drive in. But Bob liked roughing it and he reveled in finding ways to make the camp more user friendly, like rigging up a gravity-fed plumbing system.
Also important to Bob were the companion dogs he adopted during his married life. He was very fond of Sarge, Max, Buddy, and Bandit. The cats, chickens, rabbits, and hamsters… not so much.
Life took an unexpected turn in the early 2000s when Bob was diagnosed with a rare, late-onset muscle wasting disease which he viewed as some sort of ghastly punishment from the Universe for all his misdeeds.
Fran and Bob had to sell their beloved house in Gros Cap – which is now worth 3 times what they sold it for – and move to the west end of the Sault.
They fixed up one more house, Fran increasingly taking over the work as Bob’s physical condition declined. They were proudly able to say that they never had a mortgage in their lifetime.
When Bob’s disease progressed to the point where Fran could no longer handle his complaining or his care, he was forced to enter jail again (a.k.a. The Davey Home).
At the nursing home, Bob quickly established himself as the terror of the floor and was known for frequent spats with other residents (sometimes physical) and constant haranguing of the management.
But he had his favorites among the staff – the ones he called his “girls” - and they made the last few difficult years of his life worth living.
Bob will be fondly remembered by his family and friends as a cantankerous, stubborn yet lovable enigma who, when given a certain amount of alcohol, would tell the best revenge stories and tales of UFO sightings.
It should be noted that Bob, defiant to the end, did not let nature take its course, but rather opted for Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID).
His family would especially like to thank his “girls” at the F. J. Davey Home for the exemplary care and affection they gave him, and all those nights spent talking with him about hockey and how humans were spawned from an ancient alien lizard race. Some of Bob’s favourites were: Mel, Laurie, Kendra, Krista, Sandra, Julie, Kaitlyn and Sarah. Barry, we also have to add you in there with “the girls”.
The tremendous send-off from the amazing staff at the Davey Home would have made Bob proud.
At Bob’s request, no public services were held, and his ashes were interred in Hillside Cemetery, Prince Township in a cookie jar. But the cookie jar was shaped like his favourite dog Bandit, so it’s okay.
Ever the fighter, Bob advocated for many causes during his 5 plus years at the Davey Home to improve his quality of life there and that of his fellow residents. But his last cause – fixing the roof on the broken gazebo - has not yet come to fruition. If any of Bob’s friends and family would like to help make his dying wish a reality, memorial donations can be made to the F.J. Davey Home with the instructions that the funds be used for the rebuilding of the gazebo.
May his restless, rascally soul finally, finally, rest in peace.
Arrangements entrusted to the Arthur Funeral Home - Barton & Kiteley Chapel (492 Wellington Street East 705-759-2522). Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.arthurfuneralhome.com for the Burns family.