Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Soldiers of the Great War; The Fredericton Soldier Biography History Initiative

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Burns, Isacc Stephen

Private 478824
Royal Canadian Regiment
193rd Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders


Private Isaac Stephen Burns was born July 10, 1872 in Saint John, New Brunswick to Daniel and Francis Burns. According to newspapers, Isaac had a brother named John, who would eventually move to Los Angeles, California. However, very little else is known about his upbringing in Saint John other than that he and his family grew up in the Methodist faith. Records illustrate that Isaac was a well-respected soldier and military man prior to the First World War having enlisted for the Royal Canadian Regiment at the age of 13 in 1884. Newspapers highlight a young man that would become very active with the Royal Canadian Regiment. When the RCR was stationed in Fredericton he became a member of the brass band, playing the cymbals and bass drum, and would become a star baseball player. He would also meet a young girl during his time in Fredericton. Her name was Elizabeth Ridland. Born into a Scottish Methodist family, Elizabeth was living in Nashwaaksis with her family at the time she and Isaac met. They would marry one another September 25, 1895 in Fredericton and over the next eleven years they would have five children together named Agnes, Victoria, Ellen, Annie, and William Arthur.

Known as “Bobby” to his friends, Isaac and his family would move to Halifax in 1905 where he would be stationed with the RCR at the Wellington Barracks until the outbreak of the war in 1914. He would formally enlist November 22, 1915 in Halifax, Nova Scotia with the RCR, later transferring to the 193rd Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders in May of 1916. Although he was a well-respected soldier at the time because he was 44 years old, he would remain stationed in Canada. Private Burns was described as standing five feet six inches tall weighing 172 pounds with a medium complexion, brown eyes, and black hair.

Wartime Experience

Private Isaac “Bobby” Burns would remain with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax from November 1915 until the spring of 1916 when he would be transferred to the Nova Scotia Highlanders. By late April Isaac would be admitted to the Rockhead Military Hospital in Halifax where he would be initially diagnosed with “chronic indigestion”. According to medical records, in July doctors performed surgery and found him to be suffering from gastric cancer in his stomach. After hearing that nothing could be done for his condition, although doctors advised for him to continue treatment at the hospital, Private Burns discharged himself from hospital on July 31 to be with his wife and family. Isaac would pass away less than a month later on August 27, 1916 surrounded by family.

One day after his death, the Daily Gleaner reported news of his body being transferred to Fredericton in preparation for his funeral that would occur the afternoon of Wednesday, August 30, 1916 at the home of his brother-in-law, David Gorman. Isaac was buried with military honours, led by the Pipe Band of the 236th Battalion and the firing party of the No. 8 Field Ambulance Corps of Saint John. The New Brunswick Kilties also attended while returned soldiers from Europe acted as pall bearers. Private “Bobby” Burns would be buried on the Ridland family plot in Nashwaaksis. He was 45 years of age.

Lest We Forget

Private Isaac Stephen Burns is buried and remembered at the Nashwaaksis Douglas Rural Cemetery. There are two other military burials at this cemetery, including Charles B. Barker (WW1) and David Reid Brown (WW2).

*This biography was researched and written by Nick Coughlan, Gavin Ryan & Prince McCoy, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.