Christopher Burton
(1898 – 1983)

A Look Back in Remembrance

by Ainslie Mills (reprinted with permission)

Chris Burton with Vic’s Winsome Beau York circa 1956

The history of the Golden Retriever lost an important link with the passing of Christopher Burton on August 6, 1983, after an extended hospital stay. While best remembered for his role in bringing Am.Can.Ch. Speedwell Pluto to North American, those who knew Chris will miss this fine, gracious English gentleman, who always maintained a sincere interest in the Golden Retriever and its development. Christopher Burton was an honourary lifetime member of the Golden Retriever Clubs of B.C., Canada and America, as well as maintaining membership in several other golden clubs and retrieving clubs.

I was privileged to know Chris and had the opportunity to visit with him one afternoon, before his illness, and share memories and stories of his life with Goldens. Chris provided a great deal of information on the history of Goldens in Canada in Gertrude Fischer’s book, “The Complete Golden Retriever”. This article is intended to share something of Chris Burton’s life and times with Goldens.

As a small boy in England, Chris and his three brothers were “very taken” with shooting and hunting. The woods and fields near their country home provided them with plenty of game: pheasants, woodcock, snipe, plover, wild pigeons, Hungarian partridge and rooks. In addition to his own family’s retriever, Chris would often borrow his brother-in -law’s yellow retriever which he found to be an excellent hunting companion and retriever.

Christopher Burton came to settle in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1920, after serving in World War I. (He also served in W.W. II and retired as a Lt. Colonel.) There he met and married his wife, Dorothy, who predeceased him. He also met Mr. Armstrong in Winnipeg, who had some of the earliest Goldens in Canada and who first registered the kennel name “Gilnockie”. From Winnipeg, the Burtons moved west to spend several years fruit ranching in the interior of British Columbia, before moving to Vancouver for Chris to pursue a career in the investment business.

Telegram sent by Chris Burton to bring Pluto to Canada.

It was there Chris met Col. Samuel Magoffin and they became very good friends. An active sportsman, Samuel Magoffin asked Chris to recommend a good gun dog. Chris suggested a Golden. While Col. Magoffin had never seen a Golden, he had Chris set the wheels in motion which saw Speedwell Pluto come to Vancouver. Chris contacted his brother-in-law, who found a young, gun-trained male, who had been shown sparingly.

Transporting a dog from England to the west coast of Canada was somewhat more complicated in the early 1930’s, than at present. Speedwell Pluto arrived in Halifax by ship and then travelled by train across Canada, about a three week journey. Due to Col. Magoffin’s contacts with the railway, the dog was regularly exercised at every stop, enroute. Chris recounted to me how he accompanied Col. Magoffin to the station to pick up the dog. “You ought to have seen the delight he had with this dog”, he said, “He loved the look of the dog and thought he was wonderful”.

Thus, the future Am.Can.Ch. Speedwell Pluto arrived in North America to lay the foundation, not only for Rockhaven Kennels, but for the breed on this side of the Atlantic. He was a Best In Show dog, an outstanding producer, yet was regularly hunted, although not run in field trials.

Chris Burton had three Goldens during his lifetime, the first being Rockhaven Beau Brummel Can.*** in 1936. Beau Brummel was by Ch.Speedwell Pluto ex Saffron Chipmonk. Chris related to me the following stories of his dogs:

“Colonel Magoffin gave me the pick of a litter of puppies, and I named him Beau Brummel. He turned out to be a wonderful field dog and won at shows and field trials. I never lost a bird with him and he lived to be 13 years old. It was a terrible loss, but luckily we had his son named Beau Royal. He was a wonderful field dog like his father. Beau Royal was by Rockhaven Beau Brummel out of Rockhaven Betty. All my dogs were three star in the field. In those days there were no Field Trial Champions.”

“As I have said I have never lost a bird out hunting with any of my dogs and they also found many ducks and pheasants for other people. I made a point that if I saw any other man shooting and looking for the bird, I would take my dog over to find it for him if necessary. Rather an amusing story this! I used to go the the Ladner Marsh on a Monday after the weekend shooting in order to give Beau York (Rockhaven Beau Royal ex Vics Winsome Golden Orchid), more training on lost ducks. It was a sunny still Monday and I knew that I would not get much shooting. When I got to the marsh, I sat down on a big log which had been washed up by the tide. My dog York lay down at my feet. As I expected, no ducks were flying, but it was nice sitting in the sun.”

“Suddenly York sat up and turned his head towards the marsh. I then knew that he had got wind of something. He was trained of course and did not go until I told him to. He kept looking at the marsh and then at me as if to say “Please let me go!” So I said to him “Lost Bird” and off he went. He returned in about five minutes with a drake mallard which had been badly shot and I had to kill it. Well, to cut a long story short, I sent him out again and again until I had one over my limit, all without firing a shot.”

“Just then the game warden came along and asked me for my license, which I produced. He then said I had one over my limit as he counted the ducks, “Yes”, I said, “My dog is a Golden Retriever and brought all of them to me and I have not fired a shot”. I gave him my gun and told him to look at the barrels. He did so and said, “You are right and your dog must have a very good nose!!” “Yes”, I said, “He is a very good Golden Retriever, well trained, obedient, good nose and a great companion.” And all that was true. All three of my Goldens, Beau Brummel, Beau Royal and Beau York were magnificent dogs, father, son & grandson.”

Rockhaven ad 1934a
an ad for Rockhaven Kennels from the February 1934 issue of Kennel and Bench, the CKC magazine

While showing did not really appeal to him, Chris enjoyed competing in field trials and was a strong supporter of using the dogs for what they were bred to do. He believed Goldens to be fine retrievers and actively promoted their use as a hunting companion. He also very strongly advocated compulsory use of a trained retriever by all hunters, having seen many birds wounded and left to die because they were not accessible to the hunter alone.

His philosophy was summed up very well in the following statement; “I think a retriever and hunting dog should do what he was born to do, that is, retrieve. And that is the thing that this breed does very well. They are beautiful in the ring and everyone admires them, but they must be sort of aching inside to do something else, for they’re bred to retrieve and they never get a chance.”

May we all take to heart this important legacy of a fine man and continue to preserve our breed as a retriever for generations to come.