By Sue Tiffin
While some turned to Netflix and others turned to baking sourdough bread Tom Burke turned to building birdhouses.
Burke who lives in Minden with wife Joann is newly retired this year fromTimber Mart in Haliburton. Taking a break to sit down for a moment whenthe phone call from the Minden Times came in after a tip from hisdaughter Christina Allore Burke first said “OK what’d I do wrong?”and then shared the story of his newfound hobby. Initially he thoughthe’d just design craft and paint a few of the colourful woodenbirdhouses to beautify his yard.
“It gave me something to do at home and we had put up a wooden fence up around the yard for our dog lastyear” he said. “I just thought I’d build some birdhouses to put up onthe fence to make it prettier. Then after I built four or five withall the COVID-19 thing happening I thought why don’t I just buildthese and paint them and sell them to people and all the proceeds willgo to the food bank.”
Soon he had built 15 painted brightly withcolours reminiscent of Jellybean Row in St. John’s Newfoundland andsome bat houses too with other orders to be filled customizingcolours for those who want something particular.
Burke has been interested in carpentry for about 30 years possibly longer.
“I’m not bad at it” he said. “I don’t know everything yet.”
He had initially been interested in car bodywork and worked as a generallabourer but soon followed in the footsteps of his dad becoming acarpenters’ helper to learn on the job.
“My dad he built our house” said Burke. “I don’t know I just always had a bit of a draw to it.When I started in it I didn’t really know anything but I watched other people and what they did even though I wasn’t letting them know I waswatching. You know I’d kind of do my thing but watched them … I justkind of picked it up.”
By studying his colleagues’ work Burke picked up on everything from footings to finish work even masonry. He hadcarpentry clientele in Parry Sound where he and Joann lived and raisedtheir family.
“Sometimes you just wing it” he said. “But I’ve goneto bed some nights and dreamt about how I’m going to do this. If youhad something a little complicated. I’d wake up in the morning and havean idea. I’d just go out and try it.”
Burke said he’s getting “alittle long in the tooth” for the physical demand of the job but nottoo long ago he followed in his dad’s footsteps again building a house in Eagle Lake where he and Joann lived for nine years to be closer –and avoid the winter drive – to see their grandkids.
“We moved therebecause Christina lived in Eagle Lake and she was having babies” saidBurke. “We wanted to live close to the grandkids. We’ve been veryfortunate to be around them all their lives.”
He was there for Christina and she was there for him the day he most needed her.
“When I was pouring footings for my house I had a heart attack and she wasthere” said Burke. “She’s a nurse. I actually died three times thatday they had to fly me down to Sunnybrook put one or two stents in Ican’t remember. They sent me home one or two days later and I’ve beenkind of grooving ever since.”
What are the chances she happened to be there that day at that time?
“I don’t know” said Burke. “Like whose daughter would want to go andpour concrete? Give her a shout out for being there because I wouldn’tbe there if she wasn’t here.”
Burke is proud that when the time wasright he put the house he’d built on the market and “the first personto look at it bought it.” It sold in 13 days.
Now he and Joann live in a 60-year-old house “three-and-a-half clicks from Highway 35” in Minden.
“I love it here” he said. “Coming from Parry Sound area it’s notcrazy-busy like it is over there. I just love the countryside.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared Burke has been at home more often.
“There’s always something to do but you’ve got to have your priorities” hesaid. “For me right now I can do something for charity I’ve got theskills to do it I like the painting of them just seeing how prettythey are when they’re done. I don’t get out much. When I do go into astore I’m wearing a mask all the time. But I haven’t really goneanywhere in a few months so it gives me something to do gives me apurpose and it makes me feel good.”
He laughs that he does have other things to work on too.
“I have a 60-year-old house; there’s lots of stuff to do” he said. “Ikind of put that off because this is more important to me. My wife getsit. I was down and out years ago too and I know that people need thefood bank … Things are tough. I’ve been on welfare when our kids were really little. I just kind of look back and it’s my way of sayingthanks.”
Burke also gave thanks to his former employer at HaliburtonTimber Mart Greg Scheffee who “was more than generous” in donatingsome of the materials to the project which helps keep Burke busy.
“I’m on a pension” he said. “It pays enough to exist but you don’t get many extras unless you dip into your savings.”
Burke is selling the bird houses by donation noting he doesn’t have a set price
“If I say $25 some people will think maybe they’re $15 I’ve had peoplegive me $30” he said. “So whatever you feel is right then I’ll justtake it and put it toward the food bank. If it’s $15 it’s $15 towardthe food bank …When I was building these I just thought why not tryto make a bit of a difference. So this is what I’m doing I starteddoing this for my own property and if they all sell I won’t have any for my property. And I’ll just keep on building.”
To contact Tom Burke about his birdhouses call 705-286-4168 to arrange a curbside visit.