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Thursday 16 February 2012

Burton Winters. R.I.P.

A tragedy. There's little else you can call it when a young man is taken from his family and his community to never return. Unfortunately throughout the history of NL stories of this nature are far too common. Sometimes older or younger, winter or summer, fishing, sealing, hunting or just on their way from one place to another. The details change but the basic story is similar. A person traveling or working in the wilderness or on the sea when a dangerous situation arises that causes them to be lost to us forever. And it's always sad. The story of Burton Winters has been discussed at great length, largely due the the inadequacy of the Search and Rescue capabilities on the Labrador. And while that is a necessary conversation there is another aspect of this event that bothers me a great deal.

There are those who have said he should never have been riding a snowmachine alone at such a young age, and that there should have been more responsibility shown by parents and others. I say that is complete bull shit!

We have become a society where we no longer allow our children to grow up. Some have even gone so far as to say we are developing a generation that will always be children. They will not learn responsibility, decision making, self reliance and other vital life skills until they are well into their 20's or 30's. And that is a terrible shame. Luckily here in NL we are slightly more sheltered from that urban North American phenomenon, but it still certainly exists here.

Over protective parents have no idea the disservice they are doing to their children. It is through adversity and struggle that we learn how to be self reliant. It is through dealing with problems that we learn problem solving skills. And it is through doing some of these things alone that we learn what we can accomplish alone, and what we need help to accomplish. These are the traits that build strong and thoughtful people.

There was a time in this province when we had no choice but to grow up fast. 50 years ago at the age of 14 Burton would have been almost considered a man. He would have most certainly been helping the family to put food on the table through hunting and fishing. And he may well have been doing some of those things for his family a few short weeks ago.

Just as NL is slightly isolated from North America, even more so are the more remote areas of our province, such as the North coast of Labrador. And while isolation has its challenges, it also has it's benefits. Our isolation is partially why we have such a vibrant culture and such self reliant people. I like those things about us and I don't enjoy when people say we should be more like "normal" people.

I think I take such personal offense to those criticizing Burton's family and community because while I never met the young man I could have easily shared his fate. I can recall many incidents where I was off on my snow machine alone and got stuck, almost ran out of gas, got overtaken by a storm with no working light etc. These sorts of events can be dangerous, of that there is no doubt. But they also build character and self confidence. I learned how a snow machine works because mine broke down, a lot. I developed a keen sense of direction, because I had to. And I learned to respect the wilderness and the dangers it can hold.

I grew up in a house hold where I knew others took responsibility for me and loved me a great deal, but I also learned to be responsible for myself. But then again I grew up with my grandfather, and he had his first rifle at the age of 12. He grew up in Hopedale, on the North coast of Labrador.

I would ask that we all be respectful of a way of life that holds many challenges, but grows such wonderful and resilient people. Even at the age of 14 I have no doubt that Burton had more life experience then many in their 20's or even 30's.

Rest In Peace Burton Winters


  1. Wow! Thank you for writing this! It will clear up a lot for those who are ignorant to our way of life in Northern Labrador. They should not judge until they see first hand how we live. It is beyond tragedy and heart break what happened to Beautiful Burton, he should still be with us. xoxoxoxo <3 :'(

    Susan Webb
    Originally from Nain, Nunatsiavut
    Living in Wabush, NL

  2. A must read, words so true

    Sherri Hunter
    Born and raised in Hopedale, Nunatsiavut

  3. Ryan Lane,
    Very accurate piece about living in coastal Labrador which is similar to living in any "outport" or rural community on the island. So very true. Thank you for that. Thank you for expressing an "understanding" of living the outdoor life in NL. So many who do not live in our region do not understand that. Hopefully this article will put that into perspective for those cfa's.

    Charlotte Winters-Fost

    Recides in South River, NL
    Born and raised until my early teens in Hopedale, Nunatsiavut