Hans Burgers 2004

Hans Burgers received his award posthumously at the 24th CHES Annual Meeting which was held in Richmond BC, September 12–14, 2004. His wife, Alison Miner, accepted the award on his behalf. Anyone involved with CHES over the last 15 years or more will undoubtedly know the name Hans Burgers. During this time, Hans actively promoted the society in several capacities, including serving as national treasurer. Vice President, President, Editor-in-Chief of the Quarterly Journal and, most recently, a board member of the International Federation of Hospital Engineers (IFHE), since 1998. He has championed the value and dedication of CHES members, encouraged them to strengthen their position in the hospital community and has constantly emphasized the need for continuing education. All this and more earned him a CHES Life Membership last year.

Hans helped make this publication what it is today: an engaging publication and a source of information and debate among CHES members. Today, he continues to support the journal by writing regularly for it and contributes to society by serving on the IFHE Council.

However, talking about CHES only scratches the surface of everything Hans has done – as a volunteer and as an engineer. This explains how he leads others today, but not what made him the type of leader he is.


Hans was born in Liechtenstein in the late 1920s. His father was a master builder and his mother a seamstress who made ecclesiastical vestments. They instilled in their children a respect for the arts – teaching them piano, violin and painting – and a strong set of values. The family was placed in a concentration camp during World War II for participating in the underground movement. Hans says he had “a great will to live” during the war. Both parents were killed, but all three children survived. The example of his parents encouraged and supported Hans throughout his life.

After the war, Hans began to build a new future for himself. He spent the next years at university, first as a fine arts student in Heidelburg and Tilburg, then as a student of electrical and mechanical engineering in Delft. He completed his architectural studies at the University of Amsterdam. When he was not studying, he worked to pay for his studies.

Since he first emigrated to Canada in 1953, he has been inextricably linked to volunteerism and engineering. In the early 1950s, Canada was a good place to live for someone as educated as Hans. The country was changing and it needed good young minds. He began his new life in Canada working on ship air ducts at the Halifax shipyards. This was the start of over 20 very productive and happy years in Halifax, where he established a family and a career as an architect. His first jobs consisted of building houses, including his own. But Hans helped design a wide variety of buildings: Grace Maternity Hospital, Waterville Psychiatric Hospital, the YMCA swimming pool, and several churches and schools. He also put these skills to work for the less fortunate, developing low-income housing projects for the Roman Catholic Diocese’s local interfaith housing corporation. In a similar vein, he was, at one point in his career, chairman of the Residential Tenancies Board. “We helped low-income families who were being deceived by builders and homeowners,” notes Hans. This Council was also responsible for instituting rent controls and other laws essential to the protection of the poor. For 34 years, Hans has also been a member of the Specification Writers Association of Canada. He served as vice president of this organization and received the National Merit Award.


It might seem that Hans leads (and lived) an austere and strictly industrious life, but he found time for more diverse activities. In 1955, he became scout leader of Sainte-Catherine parish, with a troop of 80 children, one of the largest in Halifax at the time. He was president of the Greater Halifax Area Scouts for several years in the 1970s and devoted much time to improving amenities for campers. This included helping to build new camps for scouts. Hans’ time with the organization was capped when he received the Silver Acorn Award, the highest honor bestowed upon members.

Hans became involved in politics, going so far as to run for the seat of Halifax-East Hants for the Liberals. Although he did not win, he became the party’s executive organizer in the constituency. You could say he loved the political fray. As he himself says: “There were a lot of good people, whatever political party they supported.” The list of his associations is long. He was involved with the local swimming club in Halifax, helped raise funds for the Voyageurs (the Canadiens’ farm team in Halifax), received the Executive Award for Outstanding Service from the Halifax Board of Trade and was member of the Dartmouth Regional Vocational School Board of Trustees. . He was even named the city’s best dressed in 1977. He occasionally used his artistic talents by designing brochures and event programs, including his own cartoons. It is therefore not surprising that he is so interested in the appearance of the CHES Quarterly Journal.

In Toronto, Hans stayed busy, first with his own company, BD Developers Ltd., and with the Providence Center in the city’s St. Clair and Warden neighborhood. He was involved in the redesign of parts of the Hospital for Sick Children and, more recently, in work at St. Augustine’s. Over the past seven years, he has been focused on improving operational efficiency.

Hans has strong feelings about the work he does and what CHES stands for. “Five to 10 percent of a hospital’s budget is spent on engineering, and yet many engineers are not recognized for what they do,” he notes. “That’s why we’re losing good people in different regions, and even in the United States. Often, one engineer is responsible for two or three hospitals and he can easily burn out doing that.” Hans always emphasizes the need for education. Engineers must constantly improve their skills, and CEOs and other hospital administrative staff must be familiar with the work engineers do.

Perhaps the most telling statement Hans made when I spoke to him about writing this article was also the simplest: “Canada has been good to me. I want to give him what I can. In the Summer 1998 edition of the CHES Quarterly Journal, Hans Burgers attempted to define a leader. “A leader exudes a strong but approachable presence and stands out in the organization he manages,” he emphasized. The skills and qualities that such a position requires, he said, are enthusiasm, the ability to defend the staff who report to you, to be disciplinarian, to have a high level of ethics and to ‘to be realistic. He also said that true leaders are born and unborn. Hans tried to live by these principles throughout his career. He brings enthusiasm to everything he does and has the discipline to see his efforts through to success. He is realistic enough to know that not everyone will take his advice to heart or even share his opinions, but he believes in his ideas and defends them as much as possible. He tried to give back to the community by being a leader, demonstrating how much a person can accomplish if they put in the effort.

This article appeared in the Quarterly Journal, CHES/SCISS Spring/printemps 2001 1

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