Ralph W. Burton was born in Newington, Ontario in 1905. He studied art in Ottawa and Paris. Burton put his studies on hold during the Second World War to serve with the Royal Canadian Force. After the end of the war, Burton attended the Banff School of Fine Arts where he met his most influential teacher, A.Y Jackson. Jackson, who was a member of the Group of Seven, allowed Burton to travel with him on sketching trips to the Rockies. Burton later travelled more extensively with Jackson when they travelled throughout Western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec. These trips inspired Burton to stop painting landscapes as he became more interested in capturing images of community life in Ontario and Quebec. These paintings were meant to be a record of the lives of people who lived in the towns he visited.
Later on in his life, Burton continued to exhibit his work and taught adult art classes. In his older age Burton's love for the rugged Canadian wilderness did not diminish as he continued to go on sketching trips. He died in 1983.