Lester Burry was born in Safe Harbour, to Stephen and Mary (Bourne) Burry, on July 12, 1898.
It was as a teen age boy, while fishing in his fathers schooner, that he first encountered the shores of Labrador where he was destined to spend the major part of his life.
Having no desire to make fishing his life’s work, Lester stuck to his books. He graduated from grade 11 and went on to study Arts and Theology at Mount Alliston University in New Brunswick. In due time he attained the degree of Bachelor of Arts and was ordained for the Ministry in Gower Street Methodist Church, St. Johns, NL.
Reverend Burry’s first posting was to St. Anthony, where he ministered for four years and met his future wife, Marie Penny. During his stay in St. Anthony he met Dr. Wilfred Grenfell and in 1926 took a trip to the Labrador with him aboard the mission boat. What he saw and experienced on this trip likely had a great influence on his decision to become involved in the Labrador mission work.
After ministering for one year at Curling and further three years at Little Bay Islands, Rev. Burry, accompanied by his wife and valued helper, Marie, commenced his 26 year ministry to the people of Labrador. The Burrys travelled to their headquarters in North West River in their newly completed mission boat Glad Tidings II. The challenges started immediately. When they arrived in 1932 they were faced with the task of having to build a church and a manse. Putting the building of the church as first priority, they made do with living in an old, condemned log cabin until after the completion of the church.
With North West River as his base of operations, Lester visited his far flung parishioners who were scattered over a radius of 60 miles. Travelling alone on dog team, and later by bombardier snowmobile, these journeys lasted six to seven weeks. Camping overnight in a canvas tent with the temperatures at -30 F, was part of the normal routine on these trips. In addition to conducting worship services, baptizing, and marrying, he often had to do first aid for the sick or injured. He tried to minister to all their needs, including sharing his food, when necessary, and giving out clothing. When the navigation season opened his pastoral visiting was done by travelling the coast in his 40 foot missionary boat, the Glad Tidings II.
Many of the little communities that Lester Burry served were widely separated, the people very poor, and government services few to non-existent. He was particularly concerned about the utter isolation of the men who trapped animals for a living. Alone for months on their far away trap lines, these men had no contact whatsoever with their families or anyone from the outside world, for the duration of their trip. Lester’s solution to this formidable problem was to build a broadcasting station and supply the trappers with radios — not an easy task considering he knew little or nothing about the subject.
His concern for the trappers and their families fuelled his determination to press ahead with his dream, and in due time, with the aid of knowledgeable people and countless hours of study, he began to build the transmitter and radios. He did it all himself, with drawings and materials supplied to him from various sources.
The broadcasting system was a huge success and the listening audience grew as fast as the pastor could assemble radios. The air waves of Labrador were soon vibrating with pulses they had never before felt, as Burry sent out greetings, news, and weather reports. Now for the very first time his Sunday Services reached a much greater audience through the medium of a home made radio station. In this endeavour as in all others, his first concern was to preach the gospel and improve the life of all those entrusted to his care.
In 1946 Rev. Burry was elected by the people of Labrador to be their representative at the newly formed National Convention, charged with exploring future forms of government for Newfoundland. Burry was an advocate of Confederation with Canada and became a member of the team sent to Ottawa to investigate the terms that Canada was offering.
In honour of his lifetime work on behalf of the people of Labrador Burry was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Pine Hill Divinity Hall, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Further to this, in 1969, he was made a member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest award.
After devoting 26 years of his life to the people of Labrador, Lester Burry retired and went to live in St John’s, NL where he died on August 30, 1977.
The above information was taken from the book LESTER LEELAND BURRY written by Hector Swain of Mount Pearl, NL
ISBN for Hector’s Book is 0919095445