100 YEARS: Burde’s influence in Alberni felt beyond 1912 incorporation

Muckraking in Port Alberni in the early 1900s? It was a newspaper man, alright.

Richard (R.J.) Burde came to Port Alberni in 1907 to start the Alberni Pioneer News

Dick Burde was the consummate newspaperman in the early 1900s: he had his fingers in a lot of community pots, and was not averse to stirring things up every once in awhile.

Burde (born Richard John) has been credited by Alberni Valley historians for first suggesting the idea of incorporation, when Alberni and New Alberni were geographic and philosophic opposites.

Burde opened his first newspaper, the Pioneer News, in 1907 at the corner of Johnston Road and Gertrude Street. The first issue hit the street on Aug. 15.

Less than five years after opening the Pioneer News, Burde moved his operation across town to Port Alberni and renamed his paper the Port Alberni News. He built a plant just off Third Avenue and installed a “one-lung” Fairbanks-Morse engine in a shed behind the shop to power the printing press.

For nearly 28 years, Burde and his crew covered some of the most significant events in Port Alberni’s history.

American by birth (Ravanne, Michigan, on July 29, 1871), Burde cut his printing teeth in Bellingham, Wash., where he apprenticed as a printer. He joined the International Typographical Union and, when he died in 1954, held the record for the longest membership in the ITU.

Burde worked for the Bellingham Herald, then used his union card to travel throughout the United States. Back in Canada he worked in Winnipeg, and in 1898 followed the gold rush to the Yukon. He was editor of the Columbian in New Westminster when he got married and two years later moved to Alberni to open his own paper.

Printer’s ink may have run through his veins, but Burde was not only defined by his newspaper career.

He joined the Canadian Army, with the 57th Regiment, and was part of the recruitment drive in Alberni during the First World War. He was transferred to the 102nd and went overseas as a brigade bombing officer.

Burde survived the battle at Vimy Ridge, and won a Military Cross because of it.

After returning from the war in Europe, Burde served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Alberni constituency from 1919–1928. Some of the projects he is known for included an act to repeal prohibition, the minimum wage act and lobbying for an eight-hour workday.

In 1913 Burde built a house on Strathern Street at Fifth Avenue. Even though services like electricity weren’t yet available, he knew they were coming so he had the builder wire his house and install plumbing too. (The house is still standing in 2012, Port Alberni Centennial Committee chairman Ken Rutherford said.)

A June 8, 1966 article in the Twin Cities Times profiled Burde after his daughter, Margaret Nightingale, donated bound copies of Burde’s first paper to the Alberni District Museum and Historical Society. They were originally stored in the basement at the Alberni Post Office on the corner of Johnston Road and Gertrude Street, now the home of Pete’s Mountain Meats.

The Twin Cities Times article concludes with a poignant thought from Burde’s daughter, who said her father and the others who helped found the Albernis were people of vision. “Not all their dreams materialized; many took years to come true, but most of their ideas have been put into action through the years.”

editor@albernivalleynews.com

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