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Steveston-raised, respected jazz musician passes away, age 94

Jim Kilburn came to Steveston in 1930 with his mother’s family, the Spargos, who settled here and still have roots in the community.
Jim Kilburn was a respected Canadian jazz musician

A well-respected Canadian jazz musician, who grew up in Richmond, has passed away at the age of 94.

Jim Kilburn came to Steveston in 1930 with his mother’s family, the Spargos, who settled here and still have roots in the community.

According to one of his relatives, Bob Ransford, himself a Steveston resident, Kilburn “became a noted jazz musician” and he and his late wife, Joyce, raised their son, Rick, in Richmond.

Ransford said that Rick, who was educated at Palmer Jr High School and graduated from Richmond High, studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and “spent many years as a jazz musician in New York and today is a producer and recording engineer living in Qualicum Beach.”

Jazz guitarist Kilburn reportedly passed away peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 13 at his Qualicum Beach home.

Described as a “husband, father, music mentor, writer of fly-fishing and entomology, master fly-tier, illustrator, cartoonist, electrical technician, founding member of the Totem Fly Fishers, and president of the original Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver,” Kilburn was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

He grew up in Steveston with the Italian side of his family and it was his uncles’ love of music inspired him to play guitar.

Kilburn’s years as president of the Cellar, Vancouver’s original underground jazz club, had him brushing elbows with the world’s very best jazz musicians, and he became close friends with musicians of the likes of Wes Montgomery and his brothers, Howard Roberts, Don Cherry, Ernestine Anderson, Scott LaFaro and many others.

In 1951, however, he landed a job as an electrician at Vancouver City Hall, where he apparently, rewrote Vancouver City’s electrical code, designed street and traffic light systems for Expo ’86, and came out of retirement to help resolve myriad and challenging electrical problems associated with the construction of the new Cambie Street Bridge.

One of Kilburn’s superiors at City Hall said at his retirement that “Everyone should take a page from Jim Kilburn’s example of the work ethic.”

According to his family, Kilburn would play guitar at The Cellar jazz club until six in the morning, then head out for some fishing.

One anecdote from that period involved Kilburn and Don Cherry, who had been playing at the Cellar all night and went out to Chilliwack to fish the Vedder River.

Kilburn apparently fished while Cherry played his pocket trumpet. A soldier from the nearby army camp was walking by and asked what they were doing.

It was explained to him that Kilburn was fishing and Cherry was mesmerizing the fish with his trumpet.

According to his family, such tales were a “dime a dozen at the legendary parties and jazz sessions” at 811 Francis Road in Richmond—the first house Kilburn designed and built.

There will be a celebration of life for Kilburn at the family home in summer 2022. News updates will be posted at