The celebrated life and journey of Ellen Burka is one that can only be described as legendary. After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II, she moved to Canada in 1950 where she settled in Toronto to raise her two daughters on her own after a short marriage.
Using her experience from her own figure skating career, Ellen began coaching young and aspiring Canadians on the ice to support her family. Her title of the Dutch National Champion in 1946 and 1947 served her well in building her reputation as a world-class coach. Most notably, Ellen coached her own daughter Petra to the podium in the 1964 Olympics when she brought home a Bronze Medal and in 1965 to winning a Gold Medal in the World Championships.
Ellen later lead the celebrated Toller Cranston to multiple victories, winning six Canadian National titles as well as claiming a Bronze Medal in the 1976 Olympic Games for Men’s Figure Skating. Ellen revolutionized figure skating in Canada using her training in ballet and modern dance from her days growing up in Amsterdam and transferring those artistic skills to the ice. Ellen was awarded the Order of Canada in 1978 for “elevating skating to an art form and for imaginative choreography on the ice”
Determined as always to take care of herself and remain independent, when the stairs started giving Ellen a hard time, she and her daughter Astra began the search for a reasonable solution. Ellen wanted to remain in her long-time home in North Toronto near Sherwood Park neighbourhood.
Instead she moved into her own apartment in her daughter’s house. It just so happens that her home rises up a narrow, winding staircase for three levels plus one level down into the basement. Of course, the tenacious Ellen at 93 years old would not settle for anything less than full access to every floor of her home.
Heather Neary: Why did the option of a custom stairlift appeal to you when looking at different options to make your home more accessible?
Astra Burka: We wanted a solution that would fit onto our very complicated set of stairs and not disrupt the flow of the house too much. I didn’t want anything that required construction or major renovations but it didn’t look like we had much of a choice for a while.
Ellen Burka: We had a fellow come in to give us a quotation for an elevator too. That seemed pretty good at first but we would have had to completely remove the stairwell.
AB: Yes, the amount of construction involved with getting an elevator lift put in kept increasing until we decided that this was not the option for this house. We wanted to keep the unique hardwood staircase intact and figured there must be another way.
EB: And how would the cat get upstairs on her own! We had to keep the stairs.
HN: So what made you choose Home Stairlift Rentals as the company for the job?
AB: I did my research and we had a few other companies come in and give us quotations, but your presentation was by far the best. Gord gave us the most comprehensive quotations with many different options and add-ons to choose from so we were getting exactly what was best for our home.
EB: I also prefer dealing with local businesses and seeing the owner come out and personally get the project started for us and explain the payment structure was really nice.
AB: Gord showed us how the Platinum Stairlift has the narrowest turning radius of any stairlift in the world and that’s what really sold us in the end. It took up the least amount of space without obstructing the stairs for others and we were presented with the best pricing quotation for what we needed. It was a no brainer in the end.
HN: How was the order and delivery process?
EB: Oh those chaps worked so hard all day. The day the stairlift was installed was very chaotic around here. The moving men were bringing in all my furniture as well. But your team was very accommodating and flexible and everyone was able to work together.
AB: Yes, we were always informed. And the customer service response time was great, I never had to wait more than a day before a service technician came to make some little tweaks and adjustments that we needed. Everything came exactly as it was promised.
HN: What improvements to your life have you noticed most since the installation of the stairlift?
AB: Mum had tried the stairs once before move-in day and it was very challenging. Now that the lift has been installed, things have gotten much easier.
EB: I do miss doing the stairs though, it’s such good exercise! But this how things are nowadays, and the stairlift has let me keep taking care of myself. I still do my own laundry and go about my daily life without worrying about all these stairs. I’d never be able to go up and down them all day long.
AB: It’s much better than having her live in a retirement home. Four levels is a lot of stairs and Mum can now reach all the floors in our home without concern. Plus the cat still has the run of the whole house.
EB: It really makes everything a lot easier.
For more on Ellen Burka’s incredible story, take a look at Astra Burka’s documentary that she produced and directed which details the inspirational life of her mother. Watch Video
For more of Astra Burka’s creative work, please visit: www.astraburka.com