Burke's birdhouses benefit food bank
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 from Timber Mart in Haliburton. Taking a break to sit down for a moment when the phone call from the Minden Times came in after a tip from his daughter, Christina Allore, Burke first said, “OK, what’d I do wrong?” and then shared the story of his newfound hobby. Initially, he thought he’d just design, craft and paint a few of the colourful wooden birdhouses 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 last
year,” he said. “I just thought I’d build some birdhouses to put up on
the fence, to make it prettier. Then after I built four or five, with
all the COVID-19 thing happening, I thought, why don’t I just build
these and paint them and sell them to people and all the proceeds will
go to the food bank.”
Soon, he had built 15, painted brightly with colours reminiscent of Jellybean Row in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and some bat houses, too, with other orders to be filled, customizing colours 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.”
had initially been interested in car bodywork, and worked as a general
labourer, but soon followed in the footsteps of his dad, becoming a
carpenters’ 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 was watching. You know, I’d kind of do my thing but watched them ... I just kind of picked it up.”
By studying his colleagues’ work, Burke picked up on everything from footings to finish work, even masonry. He had carpentry clientele in Parry Sound, where he and Joann lived and raised their family.
“Sometimes you just wing it,” he said. “But I’ve gone to bed some nights, and dreamt about how I’m going to do this. If you had something a little complicated. I’d wake up in the morning and have an idea. I’d just go out and try it.”
Burke said he’s getting “a
little long in the tooth,” for the physical demand of the job, but not
too 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 there because Christina lived in Eagle Lake and she was having babies,” said Burke. “We wanted to live close to the grandkids. We’ve been very fortunate 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 was there,” said Burke. “She’s a nurse. I actually died three times that day, they had to fly me down to Sunnybrook, put one or two stents in, I can’t remember. They sent me home one or two days later, and I’ve been kind 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 and pour concrete? Give her a shout out for being there, because I wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t here.”
Burke is proud that, when the time was
right, he put the house he’d built on the market and, “the first person
to 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 not crazy-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,” he said. “For me right now, I can do something for charity, I’ve got the skills to do it, I like the painting of them, just seeing how pretty they are when they’re done. I don’t get out much. When I do go into a store, I’m wearing a mask all the time. But I haven’t really gone anywhere in a few months, so it gives me something to do, gives me a purpose, 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. “I kind of put that off because this is more important to me. My wife gets it. I was down and out years ago too, and I know that people need the food 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 saying thanks.”
Burke also gave thanks to his former employer at Haliburton
Timber Mart, Greg Scheffee, who “was more than generous” in donating
some 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 people give me $30,” he said. “So, whatever you feel is right, then I’ll just take it and put it toward the food bank. If it’s $15, it’s $15 toward the food bank ...When I was building these, I just thought, why not try to make a bit of a difference. So this is what I’m doing, I started doing 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.