Don Burgess – A History of Rugby Football on Vancouver Island 1876-1940

Don Burgess Thesis from 1970: A History of Rugby Football on Vancouver Island 1876-1940 Available as Searchable PDF

Don Burgess was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, in the Builder category. He was well recognized for his contributions to rugby as a player, coach and inventor but it was his research and writing contributions that are highlighted in this article.

In 1970 he submitted a Thesis “A History of Rugby Football on Vancouver Island 1876-1940” at Western Washington State College as part of his Master of Education degree. We were fortunate to have a photocopy of the document on loan from BC Rugby historian, Doug Sturrock, and have scanned it into a searchable .pdf to enable his work to be shared and expanded on by future rugby writers and historians.

He covers many topics during that time period, from the three visits by the NZ All Blacks to the Island in 1913, 1925, 1936 to the start of high school rugby in 1879 and the formation of the British Columbia Rugby Union in 1889.

A History of Rugby Football on Vancouver Island 1876-1940 (in .pdf format)

From BC Sports Hall of Fame (inducted 2000, Rugby, Builder category)

Don Burgess’ lifetime career in rugby on Vancouver Island showcased his skills as a stunning player and brilliant coach. His rugby magic brought success to the teams he played with or coached, and earned him headlines in the British press, such as “Burgess Superb” and “Brilliant Burgess.”

Primarily a fullback, Burgess also played scrum half, standoff and centre. His elusive side-stepping of opponents, pinpoint accuracy as a placekicker and thumping tackles were both renowned and envied.

Burgess was an active player with the Oak Bay Wanderers when he took on the role of club coach and served his team for 21 seasons. He was also a high school coach for 35 years. At the representative level, Burgess with his coaching partner Paul Horne, won 11 Canadian Junior Championships, and led the Canadian Under-21 team to three North American Under-21 titles. Burgess was also honoured as Canada’s first National Coaching Organizer, and was instrumental in establishing the National Coaching Certification Program.

In recognition of his long service to the game, Burgess was awarded one of the most prestigious awards given by the BC Rugby Union, the 1996 Jack Patterson Memorial Award for his more than 45 years of service to the game. Upon his retirement from teaching, he was similarly given a special award from the BC High Schools Rugby Union for his outstanding contribution to high school rugby.

In recent years, Burgess has coached his old high school team, Parkland located in Sidney. In addition, he has served as an assistant coach for the Canada Under-23 team, the Pacific Pride based in Victoria.

Burgess achieved international acclaim as the inventor of the Tetley Kicking Tee, an innovation used by teams worldwide. Having authored many coaching articles and currently completing his book One Hundred and Twenty-Five Years of Rugby on Vancouver Island, Burgess’s body of work is a testament to his lifelong dedication to the game.

Obituary: Rugby legend Don Burgess was inventor of the Burge tee (Feb 2018)

There wasn’t a pair of uprights Don Burgess couldn’t clinically slice right through the heart. Burgess, one of Canada’s greatest rugby kickers, influenced hundreds of young players as a coach and invented the Burge kicking tee.

Burgess, one of Canada’s greatest rugby kickers, influenced hundreds of young players as a coach and invented the Burge kicking tee. He died Tuesday at age 85.

He competed at the club, Island, provincial, national and international levels and was inducted into both the B.C. and Victoria sports halls of fame. He played 17 games for Canada and was the national team fullback through much of the 1960s, when Test matches were rare.

Brent Johnston, manager of the Castaway Wanderers club and former national team manager, said Burgess “was as good, if not better, in his era” than D.T.H. van der Merwe, the all-time Test tries leader for Canada.

Burgess, a true marksman with his foot, also played 33 games for B.C.

His greatest moment representing the province came when he converted the winning try by Peter Grantham and kicked a penalty goal as B.C. shocked the legendary British Lions 8-3 at Empire Stadium in 1966.

Most of his club career was spent with the Oak Bay Wanderers. He played all over the backfield and was noted for his kicking prowess, blazing speed and rapacious tackling. He played for the Vancouver Island Crimson Tide from 1958 to 1971, when he finally retired as a player at age 41.

“I enjoyed the club rugby, but the representative level was what I really loved,” he told the Times Colonist in 1998.

Burgess came from an athletic family. His father, Tom Burgess, operated the Esquimalt Boxing Club and was a noted trainer. His brother, Art Burgess, was physical education director of the Victoria YMCA, a B.C. Golden Gloves featherweight champion and a professional boxer.

Before he became a hall-of-fame rugby player, Don Burgess was a Victoria High School track star, setting a B.C. high school record of 4:35.2 minutes for one mile in 1951.

Burgess graduated from Vic High the following year as an all-rounder — in addition to track and rugby, he also played basketball — and attended Western Washington University in Bellingham on a track scholarship.

After university, he embarked on a teaching career, with stints at Brentwood College, Mount Newton and Parkland High School. He taught social studies and physical education, retiring in 1998.

He was married for 60 years to Barbara (formerly Hill), described in her 1953 Vic High annual as a “starry” grass-hockey player. They had three children: daughter Lisa and sons Doug and Mike.

Burgess coached the Parkland Panthers for 25 years and the Oak Bay Wanderers club for 28 seasons. With Paul Horne of White Rock, he co-coached the B.C. U-19 team and the Canadian Under-21 and Under-23 sides for 13 years.

Several generations of Island kickers — including Canadian World Cup captains Mark Wyatt and Gareth Rees, fellow national-teamers Bobby Ross and John Graf, and CFL kicking legend Dave Cutler — were mentored by Burgess.

“Don was a great guy, superb coach, teacher, mentor, who had a major impact on teams and individuals throughout the country — myself included,” said Wyatt, who scored 227 points in 29 Test matches for Canada, and is also in the B.C. and Victoria sports halls of fame.

“Don was the biggest single influence on my individual skill development. He had a huge amount of background experience and imparted it widely on a volunteer basis.”

In 1996, Burgess won the Jack Patterson Memorial Award for his 45 years of service to the sport, including 35 years as a high school rugby coach. He was also recognized for being Canada’s first rugby coaching organizer.

Burgess’s other great rugby success was the Burge tee, also known as the Tetley Tee (it was originally sponsored by the tea company). Burgess noticed during the first rugby World Cup in 1987 that kickers were still mounding dirt or sand to create a natural kicking tee.

The idea hit him to create a rubber-moulded tee and it became one of the great success stories in the world of rugby business, with hundreds of thousands of the tees sold worldwide. Almost all of the rugby kickers in the world now use a plastic tee of some sort.

“I’m a teacher first and foremost and I never got into this other thing to make money,” Burgess told the Times Colonist in 1998.

“I was a kicker and I wanted to make life easier for them in rugby. That’s all.”

It was the game itself that was paramount to Burgess. He was known to stop the car if he saw someone kicking on a field — even a random person — and bring out a bag of balls from the trunk and give tips.

“[Dad] never lost his passion for sport,” said son Mike Burgess.

Burgess is survived by wife, Barbara, daughter Lisa, sons Doug and Mike and five grandchildren.

Posted in Front Page, History.