Fitness fanatic Art Burgess’ life was honoured on Sunday at a memorial in Victoria, following his death at 85 last month.
The gathering drew a cross-section of friends and family, many from Victoria’s athletic community, as Burgess’ exercising beliefs imprinted the region from the 1960s onward, and resonates to this day.
As the Victoria YMCA director (from 1960-71), Burgess recruited Ed Ashmore into running Burgess’ wrestling class. It was a sport Ashmore knew nothing of.
“Art called me down to tour the YMCA and introduced me to the wrestling kids,” said Ashmore, who also spoke at Burgess’ memorial service. “A few days later, he called me again, saying ‘I separated my ribs, you need to teach the class.’ I took over the class that week and he didn’t come downstairs to see how I was doing for weeks. That was it.”
Ashmore grew into the role and Victoria became a powerhouse in wrestling. To this day, Ashmore runs the Commonwealth Bulldogs regional school team.
“That was just one thing Art did, he means so much to our athletic community. He could see into your spirit, kind of a thing, without having to really know you,” Ashmore said.
Burgess started out boxing, which led to teaching fitness in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1949. He then earned a bachelor of physical education at the University of B.C.
Burgess was recruited to the Victoria YMCA by legendary track and running coach Archie McKinnon. He left for the University of Alberta (Edmonton) in 1980 where he attained his doctorate in physical education. When Burgess returned, he taught fitness and skating from about 1998 to 2003 at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre.
Figure skating was one of his many passions, an activity he shared with his wife Dorothy.
Though Burgess led a model life of fitness, he still managed a couple of run-ins with the police.
During his earlier years in Burgess, who was a trendsetter for recreational jogging, was pulled over by the police on the assumption anyone caught running must be a thief.
And he wasn’t afraid to speak is mind. In a Victoria Daily Times story in 1965, Burgess called out the Victoria police, saying they were dangerously out of shape: “All it would take would be a foot race after someone or a run up a flight of stairs and we’d have some police funerals.” Of course, he also offered to train them.
Having grown up in his house, daughter Karen Burgess experienced the full thrust of Burgess’ energy.
“My father was a driven man. He was passionate about educating people on the benefits of fitness and actively participated in the fitness classes he taught,” she said.
Burgess was diagnosed and lived with Type 2 diabetes for 44 years, and for years travelled on delivering talks on diabetes. He is survived by wife Dorothy Jean, children Dave, Terry, Karen and Brian; grandchildren Michael, Katie, Tom, James; brothers Don and Tom and sister Mary. He is predeceased by son Art Jr., sister, Margaret and brother Andy.