By Connor Lynch
ADMASTON-BROMLEY — Many people in Renfrew County would know of Murray Burwell’s work, even if they didn’t recognize the name.
The 88-year-old, who died July 22, was a quiet, behind-the-scenes figure who played an important role in almost a dozen fair boards, marketing boards, township councils and hospital boards throughout the county. The drainage champion is survived by his wife Marie, and his three children Douglas, Brian and Ann.
Burwell was a mixed-operation farmer at the township of Admaston-Bromley, a small township (population just under 3,000) an hour west of Ottawa. In the early days, Burwell had a small dairy operation, said neighbour Lauretta Rice. By turns, he raised beef cattle, sheep hogs, crops, and at one time had a 1,200- hen layer operation.
The times when his land was underwater taught him the importance of municipal drains. The only reason his land was workable at all was because drains had been installed and, every time one went in, the land got a little better.
As a municipal councillor for Bromley township (which amalgamated with Admaston in 2000), Burwell was a big advocate of drains. A peacemaker, he assuaged concerns from residents worried about the cost of the drains, focusing on the benefits he knew all too well. In what could well be a unique feature in Ontario, he understood the Municipal Drainage Act, Rice said, and happily helped farmers with drainage issues.
Burwell also kept busy helping the local 4-H group, was a provincial director of the Junior Farmers of Ontario, spent 17 years with the Renfrew County Pork Producers, nearly 30 as a member of Renfrew’s Soil and Crop Committee, founded the county Plowmen’s Association, was president of the Cobden Agricultural Society, and spent 15 years on the board of the Cattlemen’s Association.
He also served on the board of the Renfrew Victoria Hospital and was instrumental in its growth and development, said Ontario Federation of Agriculture eastern regional manager Brian Hamilton. “He enjoyed the role, attended hundreds if not thousands of meetings, to make it work. The hospital grew, it expanded, and Murray was quietly behind the scenes.”
If there was a work he had participated in in his community to leave him with a lasting pride, the hospital was it, Hamilton said.
The farmer was named the hospital’s first honorary director. In 2014, he was inducted into the Renfrew Agricultural Hall of Fame, and was named Admaston-Bromley Senior Citizen of the Year in 2009. In 1984, he received a Bicentennial Provincial Award of Merit for his contributions to agriculture. From 1976, he served on the hospital’s board for 25 years, once as chair, once as vice-chair, and eventually on every committee.
Said Hamilton: “He had a lot of quiet successes. He didn’t brag about them. It was just the job that needed to be done, and he took it on with good graces.”