Burt Northburn was born in a trapper’s cabin in South Muskrat, weaned on birch syrup and beaver milk. He spent his formative years in boxcars and mineshafts, learning the stories of the common folk. While logging north of Chapleau, lightning struck an oak tree Burt was climbing. He survived to carve his first guitar from the still smouldering trunk. He had dreams of going west but only made it as far as the crossroads at Wawa, before arthritis in his thumb put a hitch in his hitching. It was inside the famed Maple Key Hotel that Burt found himself 5 cents shy of a pint of Northern. Lucky for him, a shadowy stranger offered to pay for his drink in exchange for a song. Four sets and several pitchers later, Burt and the stranger were scrawling out a record contract on a napkin. The stranger was none other than a certain department store impresario, and Burt dedicated his first major hit to him: “The Ballad of Nickelman.” The rest, as they say, is misery.

Live photos courtesy Jorge Cueto Herrera

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