Valley Lives - Walter Burnett "Burnie" Nesbitt

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 21, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Rupert Fair pioneer was a 'community pillar'

by Lucy Scholey

Walter Burnett Nesbitt was a man of few words, but he never said "no."

"Burnie," as everyone knew him, always said "yes" to community volunteer work and events around and about the Rupert area.

He could never forego the annual Gatineau Valley Horse and Cattle Fair, even during his later years when he long stopped watching the show from the middle ring in favour of a wheelchair seat on the sideline

And he refused to pass up the Rupert auction last August, despite his failing health. It was his last event before he died at the Wakefield Hospital on Sept. 3. He was 91.

Valley Lives
Burnie Nesbitt with Brock, one of his prized Clydesdale horses, in July 1992. Nesbitt always showed off his horses at the annual Rupert Fair. Photo courtesy Lorie Nesbitt and Carolyn Kidder.

Both figuratively and literally, Nesbitt stayed close to Rupert for most of his life, and his moving only a mile away from his birth home on McCrank Road is but one example.

Nesbitt helped found the Gatineau Valley Horse and Cattle Fair in 1962 and, in that same year, also founded the Youth Welfare Association of Rupert. From 1985 to 1992, he was a La Peche councillor for Ward 5, which included Rupert, Farrellton and Lascelles at the time.

When not sitting on a committee or community event, Nesbitt worked as a farmer - first at his childhood home on McCrank Road and then on a new farm he bought on Beurrerie Road in 1944.

He married Eileen Stephens in 1947 and the two raised their children, Carolyn (Kidder), Gail, Walter (a.k.a. Sonny) and Lorie, on the farm.

Lorie Nesbitt and Carolyn Kidder remember when their dad moved the original Rupert Community Centre across the road to its current location, using a tree skidder, in 1973.

He kept using the machine into his 80s, when he had to be boosted onto the seat.

"It's still in the family," said Kidder. "He never got rid of that."

But that skidder was no replacement for his Clydesdale horses, and Nesbitt probably owned more than 100 horses in his lifetime. He paraded them around the line competitions at the Rupert and Shawville fairs and always won prizes because his were the only entries in the Clydesdale class. One year, he dressed up a horse as an elephant for the then-traditional Rupert Fair parade.

The only time he he missed the fair in 49 years was 1968, when the family moved to Alberta for a year, hoping that a drier climate would ease his wife's asthma.

At this year's Rupert Fair, the crowd observed a moment of silence for Nesbitt.

As his health began to deteriorate, he auctioned off the last of his 13 horses in 2003. Lucky, a Jack Russell terrier and gift from daughters Gail and Lorie, soon replaced the Clydesdales.

But Nesbitt didn't stop working. In 2005, he decided to build a house on Belanger Road - again, a mile from his birth home, but in the opposite direction.

He hired the workers and kept a close eye on the project, visiting often and taking a nap on site. Before he sold the home, he took one bath in the whirlpool tub.

"He was fairly reserved, but he liked a good joke," said childhood friend, Judy Thompson.

During his later years, Nesbitt still visited the Valley Conservation Club in Lascelles to eat a meal and listen to hunting stories. He stayed active when he and his wife moved to the seniors' home on Sully Road, playing cards at least twice a week with community members.

"Burnie was a real pillar of the community," said Thompson. "He was just a good, hardworking man, I'll tell you that."

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