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Ron Burger , Way North of Dixie

Roper catches up with an original member of a local band

Sometimes I get a call or a text from a reader who has a story for me. It sure feels good knowing someone is enjoying the column.

Mike Doogan-Smith thought his bandmate Ron, should get in on the column action and I agreed. Turns out Ron Burger is now 88 and for some unknown reason he wants to retire from the band. The band he helped form over 37 years ago.

You gotta be kidding, it can’t be that long ago. But it is and I caught up with Ron for a coffee to find out how he made his way to a place called Smithers and got the bandmates together.

Ron was brought up in Rotterdam, Netherlands during the Second World War. The Canadians liberated his town and the one thing Ron remembers as a 9-year-old was when the radios came back and he heard some Dixieland music. It seemed to touch his soul and he carried that love all his life.

When high school graduation came along, Ron had made up his mind he was going to immigrate to Canada and so he did at 21 years old ending up in Vancouver. His goal was to go to university but that took money, something he did not have.

So he became a bank teller and set about saving some of that hard-earned cash. Ron took a transfer to Chase B.C. and got introduced to the lumbering and construction business, hourly rates were a bit better than banking and finally Ron saved enough income to enter U.B.C. and begin his studies to become a teacher.

That was the first and only time he was able to attend a full year at university. The rest of his studies had to be fit in between jobs and during summer semesters. After graduating, though, he was able to work in the teaching profession and started his trade in a rural school in the Peace River country.

Then it was Rycroft Alberta, Dawson Creek B.C. and on to Kitsault for a four-year stint as principal. By then Ron was married with three young ones and when the mining town closed down, South Hazelton became their new home.

All along the way Ron had taken notice of the Bulkley Valley and was patiently waiting for a chance to move into that school district. It happened and provided seven years at the Quick school and 16 years at Lake Kathlyn. Quite a career.

But let’s not forget about his love for Dixieland music.

Along the trail, Ron picked the banjo as his go-to instrument. He had been strumming along in Dixieland bands since high school. In 1987 the B.V. Folk Music Society decided to present a Valentine’s concert at the Driftwood Hall. Dixie music fit the bill perfectly.

Ron had been playing with Andy Adema and friends and this looked like a chance to showcase themselves.

“What a time we had,” said Ron “And we got ourselves hooked on performing. By the next year’s performance we had solidified the band. Over the years many musicians came and went until this present group we have today”

They are Mike Doogan-Smith on piano, Mark Allen on the drums. Michelle Elliot took vocals and trumpet is handled by Dave Goble. The Brass includes Kent Taylor, tuba and Ekaterina Daviel, trombone with Ryan Holmes completing the band on clarinet.

And of course let’s not forget Ron, the organizer and lead Banjo player.

“It has been quite the ride and such a great opportunity to play this type of music with such diverse and talented groups of people,” said Ron. “We have had so much fun and even went as a family, wives and husbands, on a trip to New Orleans. We rented a house for a week and had an incredible time.

“So now it’s time to step away from the band life. My hearing has deteriorated so it’s hard to keep up. I’ve decided to become part of the audience and enjoy the performance rather than participate. I have several banjos and may be able to part with one to the right person. Contact me if you are interested. Thanks for the memories.”

And thank you Ron for giving us your side of the story.