Interview with Gord and Gordon A. Burley, July 6, 2011

Photograph of Gord Burley
Photograph of Gord and Gordon A. Burley


Interview with Gord and Gordon A. Burley, July 6, 2011


Oral history interview with Gord Burley, former Deseronto resident, and his son, Gordon A. Burley.


July 6, 2011


Gord Burley
Gordon A. Burley




1 hour, 12 minutes

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbit/s


Amanda Hill


Gord Burley
Gordon A. Burley


The John M. Parrott Centre, Napanee, Ontario

Time Summary

0.00 Family came to Deseronto from Earlton, Ontario in 1916, when Gord was four. Family had moved there in 1800, where they operated a sawmill. Father heard of the Rathbun Company, so sold up and moved to Deseronto. Two of Gord’s siblings died at birth. He had three brothers and two sister who survived.
2.20 [Arrival of Gord’s son, Gordon A. Burley and explanation about oral history project.] Gord’s family had a house next to the site of Ideal Vendors [on Mechanic Street]. The Maracle family lived opposite them.
03.54 Memories of Deseronto Public School: both Burleys went to the old Public School. Gord remembered the washrooms being added and there were six rooms when he went to the school. He remembered Manley Ostrander. Both Gord and Gordon A. remembered being hit with a strap by teachers there.
07.00 Gord’s parents were Edgar and Alice Burley. Edgar ran the grist mill in Deseronto (now Hudson’s Mill). ‘Peanut’ Allen ran the mill before Edgar Burley and Edgar sold it to John Clark, who sold it to Arnold Hudson. Mention of Cecil Root working for Edgar Burley and the fact that the mill had a blacksmith’s shop and a livery stables.
10.42 Gord was never allowed to go to Naylor’s Theatre. Remembered paying 10c or 15c to see movies there. Discussed the condition of the theatre. Gordon A. remembered farmers tying up their horses outside the grist mill and the liquor store. Their house in Green Street had no bathroom.
13.33 Gord remembered dancing around a maypole at the school on May 24th. Bill Houle had to go home for lunch, he would run home, gulp down a sandwich and run back to school so that he didn’t miss the ball game. Gord didn’t attend the High School in Deseronto and Gordon A. went to school in Belleville.
14.53 After school Gord worked at Riggs’s garage in Belleville [224 Pinnacle Street] from 1933 to the 1940s. Gordon A. worked there, too, as did Archie and Henry Burley [Gord’s brothers]. Gord describes what work there was like. They had Safeway tandem-axle buses which would get caught in the railway tracks on Pinnacle Street. No snow ploughs in those days – just ruts in the snow, with only enough room for one vehicle to pass. Gord was driving a Maxwell four-cylinder touring car and couldn’t afford the $2 license fee, so they rented out a room of their house for $5 a month to a couple who were studying at the college. This reduced the Burleys rent to $10. The students both had paper rounds which was how they paid the $5 rent.
21.15 Memories of the Depression: making clothes. People only had three sets of clothes. Everyone was poor. Some people would steal coal from the wharf: you could see who, from the black smoke coming from their chimneys.
23.18 Gord remembers two men who brought English wives back after World War Two. Brief discussion about the Rathbun industries on the waterfront. Gord remembers the Clapperton glass factory and the Eddy Match factory. Dawson’s Marina was built on the site of match factory.
26.10 Gord remembers shoe, grocery and feed stores. Edgar Burley would buy a carload of grain for the mill. Gordon A. worked for Ed Roach, the butcher. There were nine grocery stores in Deseronto, two or three ice cream parlours. One of them was Malley’s and there was another next to it. Geddes’ was on Fourth Street. McCullough’s was another drug store on Main Street, next to the Coles’ barber’s shop. People arriving on ships would get a shave and a haircut at the barber’s and even get a bath there. A Chinese man had a lunch counter next to the barber’s shop in the 1950s.
30.50 Entertainment: when Gord was at the Public School the children kept the creek behind the school shovelled clear and skated on it with ‘spring’ skates [which clamped onto boots] in the 1920s. Gordon A. played hockey on the outdoor rink on Edmon Street. Dr McVicker used to take the boys to hockey matches elsewhere. There were three blacksmiths shops in Deseronto, Mellor’s was the one near the United Church and another was Parry. There was harness racing on the bay in the winter, which kept the blacksmiths busy.
34.20 Edgar Burley moved a house from the site of the Deseronto Iron Works to Belleville. One part was carried up the bay on the ice, but they had trouble getting it off the ice. So they carried the other part along the highway. The house is still there, on Henry Street in Belleville.
36.30 The Burleys were members of the United Church. Gord’s parents were Brethren and attended the Gospel Hall. The hall was moved by the Burleys and so was the house on the highway where Burley’s Motors was established. Archie Burley had the Quinte Fuel business down on Mill Street. Gordon A. remembered cutting the ice with a saw from the bay. He worked for Archie for a while. Gord’s wife was from Belleville and was called Lena Westfall. Her nephew is Eddie Westfall (b.1940), who played for the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders in the 1960s and 1970s.
39.55 Riggs’s sold the Whippet car. They had no heaters and it took five or six hours to bring them from Toronto to Belleville. They used to make autotractors, too: cars with the back wheels removed to turn them into a tractor. Archie Burley built a snowmobile out of a Model T Ford for his father, who had a 30-mile mail run. They took the mail out on Saturdays.
44.00 Archie Burley, who is 103, said that the family came to Deseronto because they were sick of fighting fires. The family hid in the well to avoid the fire. Discussion about Gord’s walking stick, which has a brass inset made from a horse’s hame (part of a horse’s harness). Talked about the Drydens, who were harness makers.
47.30 Gord moved back to Deseronto from Belleville in 1943 to work for Archie for the next 23 years at Burley’s Motors on Highway 2. It was very cold in the building in the winter. Had to keep the gasoline pump area clear of snow in the winter. They sold Chrysler and General Motors cars from that garage. Discussion about railway stations in Deseronto. Gord says that there are the remains of the Deseronto Junction station at the end of Cecil Root’s farm.
52.57 Gordon A. remembers there being boxes of First World War uniforms and wooden horses in the barn by the match factory when he was a boy in the 1940s. He worked at Deseronto Electronics and made radios for a while as an apprentice. Gord (senior) earned $15 a week at that factory and worked from seven in the morning until six at night, and Sundays and holidays with no overtime. His pay went up to $18 when he got married at the age of 19 (his wife was 18). Discussion of Larry Brown who worked there as service manager and who was a member of the Club Commodore Orchestra in Belleville.
56.37 Archie Burley closed up his garage in 1946 and Gord got a job at the service centre on the 401 east of Napanee. Had uniforms made for the mechanics in Toronto. Worked there in a very hot summer and wanted to leave because it would be cold in the winter. He went to Ideal Vendors for a job and stayed there for ten years, until the plant shut down.
58.32 Gord went to Gibbards in Napanee after that, where he worked until he was 65: a good place to work. The service centre Gord worked at has now been torn down and replaced. Discussed the history of the 401 and the days before it was fully open and the speed trap in Deseronto in 1951 operated by Harry Pratt which caused a controversy then, making news in Toronto. Harry got Gordon A. a job as an expediter for heavy equipment at the H. K. Ferguson fibre plant in Millhaven.
01.04.19 The Burleys moved from Deseronto to east of Marysville to a 50 acre farm: Gord didn’t enjoy farming so went to Belleville to work at Riggs’s garage. Edgar Burley built a house there (land was purchased from the Campbell family) which is still standing.
01.05.52 Discussion of Reg and Don Dawson’s ownership of Foresters’ Island. Then, a lot of Americans owned cottages there. The Dawsons hoped to supply water to the town from the island, but it turned out to be contaminated with iron. Rathbun’s farm discussed, and the Town garage on Prince Street, which was owned by Don Dawson as part of his dealership and moved to Deseronto by him. Gordon A. used to be a pilot but spent most of his career in car dealership. Gord has got 10 great-great-grandchildren. Gord used to shovel snow off the rink in Deseronto.