Thursday, March 18, 2010


156 weeks ago today our lives changed.

The actual anniversary is on the 21st, but is was an early Thursday morning that changed our lives.

First let me go back to 2005, the Girl was heading off to University and on the 4 hour drive to take her to residence my husband could not sit for more than about 1 1/2 hours without being in quite a bit of pain. It was discovered later that he actually had a fracture in his spine at L5S1. A piece of the fracture was pushing on a nerve, ya ouch! Surgery was the only option. Being a self employed Farmer, without a disability policy, he scheduled the surgery for November 2006. T3's became his friend from August 2006. November 21st the surgery was successful and he was to take 4 to 6 months off regular work to recover.

4 months to the date of his surgery we woke at 2:06 a.m. to the sound of Fire equipment screaming past our house. "What the h#ll!", was the Husband's response. I raced out to the kitchen for a look down the road, "The Barn's on Fire!" I could see the whole barn complex completely engulfed in flames. The Boy and his Dad raced out of the house, I called people but no answer. Turns out they all already knew. Our neighbour was up and saw a glow and realized it was the barn. They called people, when she asked her husband if she should call us he said: "H#ll no the last thing they need is for him to get hurt, they will find out soon enough!"

Those calls saved the cows, 62 of them. 2 passers by came and helped, they got my in-laws up and told them to get dressed, it was that scary. The next 5 hours we watched the historic barns burn to the ground. The fire crews were amazing, Ontario Hydro came and disconnected the power. Neighbours came to console and watch and help. They corralled the cows into a pasture setting up the electric fence in the dark. Calves in hutches outside were moved away from the barn. At dawn we went home to recover and decide. No one felt like eating. We just sat stunned.

Then miracles started to happen.

People came, John a dairy farmer and friend came down with a wagon load of gates. "you will need something to keep the cows safe". Someone brought a load of feed, trucks, trailers, and food, so much food. The Boy and his Dad went to see what to do. I called the Girl...she cried and wanted to come home. (Her friend Erin told others that she couldn't go out that night because 'my friend's Barn burned down!')

When I arrived about 8:30, they were milking cows! The milking parlour had been saved. Our friend Dave the electrician came and wired up some circuits to make things work. Fire crews were still literally putting water on the building and they were milking cows inside. Fire trucks came and went delivering water. There were people everywhere cleaning up, moving animals, moving equipment out of a shed to make a 'home' for the cows. It was chaos, it was miraculous. We certainly learned who our friends were!

In all we lost 17 calves and one cow named Jesse that would not leave the barn. Cats either perished or disappeared, about a dozen or so, a few remained. We were in assessing the damage and we could hear this faint 'meow' from under the boards in the gutter cleaning system. My brother-in-law kicked away the charred boards to find underneath a very wet and angry cat. Scruffy survived, our vet prescribed some antibiotics and he is still with us!

The days that followed were filled with anguish and hope. People came and helped us clean-up, at one point we had 30+ volunteers with equipment and bare hands picking through the debris. A friend came in new rubber boots to help. He said to me: "I didn't know you had a slatted floor here?" my reply "that's not the floor you are standing on it's what's left of the roof!" I gave another friend a quick tour one day and he looked at the damage and said: "It's all gone, just gone!" The fire had turned everything into ashes.

The Barn was actually 3 barns put together in a 'U' shape. We think they were built sometime in the 1850's and one of the smaller barns was moved from a location about 300 meters away. Added to those barns were other smaller additions and in the 1960's the cement block section for stalls was added and then attached to that was the milking parlour. (The cows come into the parlour and the person milking the cows is in a pit at udder level placing the milkers on 8 cows at a time.)

What remained was the last section containing the parlour. About 1/6 that was there the day before. Silos of feed were unaffected, we were out of straw to bed the animals, but straw came. One Farming family paid for the straw and had it delivered in small loads so that they could bed up the animals daily without having to store the straw. We had equipment stored in other Farmers barns and sheds, we were loaned the use of augers, gates, pipes. When ever we needed something it appeared. Even all the shovels, forks and pails were gone.

Once the cleanup was done, we then had to decide. Do we continue? What do we build? We now had to meet Nutrient Management Guidelines. We had to get permission to rebuild from local and provincial agencies. Insurance would cover some of the cost. Deciding took 2 months. They continued to milk cows who were living in a machine shed, but they couldn't stay there all year. This farm is a partnership between 3 brothers and their Dad. We had to consider all options.

Once decided, things moved relatively quickly. Building departments were actually quite helpful and the builder started his job in July, the cows moved into the barn just before Christmas. The New Barn was ready for the open House March 2008.

Needless to say my Husband did not have a complete recovery, he still has back issues, but they are manageable most days. The new Barn is fresher, lighter and easier to keep clean. Chores take a little longer. We built a practical barn, one that we could afford. Ideally we could have started with a whole new system and spend a pile of money, but at 55 years old, it was not practical.

After the Fire, during the decision time, I started to knit, knit all the time. We also discussed Yarn Shop as a distraction to the Fire. I dragged him to the Needlework festival in Toronto that spring as a way to get away for the day. We talked to the nice people from Philosopher's Wool. They offered good and realistic advice. I kept knitting and became the gofer person for the building process. I know more about building a dairy barn then I really want to know.

Putting together a yarn shop was way easier!

Even just re-telling the story has brought tears to my eyes, I don't like looking at any of the photos I took of the whole event, but I will leave you with one taken by the Girl.

It's of 2 of the 3 remaining cats assessing the state of the now gone barn. "What happened!, will they rebuild?"

That's the story. We met and developed many long lasting relationships with all those that helped us through this challenge and we are grateful to everyone. 'A friend in need is a friend indeed!'


Paula said...

Aren't the country folks wonderful?? When our barn caught fire (mice eating wires) the neighbours were here waaaay before the fire department and luckily got the fire out before we lost much.

LRodney said...

I still find it amazing how people help one another, such generosity and all from the goodness of their hearts. Reading about your barn has brought tears to my eyes.