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Jun16FriHigh River’s oldest soldier shows no signs of slowing down. June 16, 2017 by Ken Ramstead
This month, The Salvation Army’s Foothills Church in High River, Alta., celebrated its 110th anniversary. Proudly in attendance was 94-year-old Edith Burke, Foothills’ oldest soldier and one of the territory’s oldest living uniformed Salvationists.
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“This past May marked 71 years that I have been with The Salvation Army in High River,” Burke says proudly. “I’ve been with the home league for 42 of those years, and I have a life membership certificate to show for it!”
“Edith has been around forever,” confirms Lieutenant Kelly Fifield, corps officer. “She’s been with the Army through floods and fires, countless officer changes and multiple buildings. Edith is full of wisdom and knowledge, so as we celebrate our corps anniversary, we’ll also be celebrating her soldiership and her support of The Salvation Army.”
The Way to High River
Burke was born in Whitewood, Sask., and in 1922, her family moved to Kimberley, B.C., where her father worked in the mines. “He then decided to homestead way up in northern Alberta, so we lived up there for 12 years.”
He died in 1930 and her mother remarried 10 years later. “My stepfather joined the Canadian Army in the Second World War and we moved to Calgary,” says Burke. “I was working by then, so when my dad returned from overseas and my family decided to move to High River, I stayed in Calgary for a time. But at the end of May 1946, I joined them in High River.”
By that time, her mother was attending the corps there, but this was not Burke’s first experience with The Salvation Army.
“During the war, my mother, sister, brother and I used to walk down Eighth Avenue to the CPR station,” she says. “The Salvation Army band would perform there every Saturday night. My mom was so taken with them that when the family moved to High River, she started attending the services.”
A month after her move, Burke decided to join her mother.
“The church was in a really old two-storey building,” she remembers. “The officers’ quarters were upstairs and there was no plumbing!”
Burke soon became involved in the life of the corps, helping the home league with their bake sales and pie socials and manning the kettles at Christmastime.
Why Not Now?
“I always liked The Salvation Army and admired all that they did,” Burke says. “While I quickly became an adherent, I didn’t become a soldier for quite a few years after I started attending.”
“Quite a few years” translates into 38! She became a soldier in April 1984.
Why so long to make up her mind?
“I wanted to get to know how The Salvation Army worked and how they ran things and everything that went with it before I committed myself to be a soldier,” she replies. “I decided to keep doing what I was doing until I made up my mind.”
So matters stood until 1983 when some new officers joined the corps. “I talked to them and decided that now was the time,” Burke says. “Why not now? I asked myself. In truth, I should have joined years before. Becoming a soldier was the right thing to do.”
Even though it was decades ago, Burke still remembers how she felt when she signed the Soldier’s Covenant. “It was wonderful because I was helping to do the Lord’s work and I was helping people who were in need.”
Still as active as ever in the corps, Burke continues to faithfully man the kettles, completing 13 shifts this past season.
“I still love The Salvation Army and I hardly ever miss going to church,” Burke says. “I really am proud of the work I’ve done and I thank God every day that he has given me my health so that I can carry on and do the kettles. I hope I’m given a few more years so I can continue helping out at Christmas.”