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Leaside’s long connection with the Gurkhas

Many different things show up in basements and garages.  In Carol Burke’s home on Tanager Ave., where she’s lived for 47 years, you’d find the archives of the Gurkha Welfare Appeal (Canada).

There is a long story about how they came to Leaside.

Carol’s late husband, Major Michael Burke, was born in India and served as a member of Gurkha Officer Cadets.  Years later, after service in the Royal Inniskillen Fusilliers in Britain, he made the decision to move to Canada, thinking of going west and trying ranching.

Someone on the plane convinced him to stop in Toronto first.  That led to a long career teaching at St. Brigid’s Catholic School in East York, while, thanks to his early contact with Gurkha soldiers, being asked to become the volunteer secretary for the Gurkha Welfare Appeal (Canada), founded in 1975.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust had been set up in England earlier, to provide pension assistance to Gurkha soldiers who had not served the requisite 15 years for a pension, and were now returning home to Nepal with no financial recognition for their services.

During the time of the Canadian trust, over $3 million was raised from members of the Royal Canadian Military Institute and the Royal Canadian Legion, often matched with funds from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

In all, Canadian funds provided for 23 welfare centres with medical facilities, a residential school for blind children, water projects, suspension bridges and classrooms in Nepal.

Two of the welfare centres are named in honour of the chairman of the Appeal, The Honorable Robert C. Rutherford, and Major Burke:  Rutherford House and Burke House.

Col. Rutherford is close to our neighbourhood too, living now in the veterans residence at Sunnybrook Hospital.  A further honour for Burke was being awarded an MBE in 1983.

After Burke’s death in 2004, new trustees were appointed with the approval of the Public Guardian and Trustee.

The Leaside connection continues.  The new chairman is Michael Stevenson, who served 20 years with the British Army and a subsequent 20 years with the Queen’s York Rangers in the reserves in Canada.  He lives on MacNaughton Rd.

Burke’s widow, Carol, is now the secretary, and a further local member is Arthur Manvell, who lives on Broadway Ave., and is also the honorary librarian at the Royal Canadian Military Institute.

The decision was made to distribute the remaining funds, approximately $220,000, to the over 7,000 remaining Gurkha veterans and their families.  This distribution is being completed now under the direction of the Gurkha Welfare Trust in England.

As Michael Stevenson says, “A noble cause and good works, finally comes to a close.”

Well, not completely.

The archives are being moved from Tanager to York University for study and safekeeping.