Volume 8, Number 44, 2005

Fire Dance
By Harley M. Reid

Grandmother often told us this story. “Grandfather paid a ten dollar homestead entry fee for 160 acres of northern Alberta land. He lived there for three years, cultivated 40 acres and built a home before receiving the title to the farm. This picture was taken the day he almost lost a year’s work to the fire. He never blamed the photographer’s cigarette for starting it, but no stranger was ever allowed to take a picture of his farm again.

The Alberta Agriculture Field man brought the photographer out because he was excited about the samples he took the week before. The field of Kitchner variety wheat had tested at 80 kernels per head and 7 kernels to a mesh. He said the deep golden colour of the crop was the finest he had seen that year. The smoke wasn’t noticed until after the two men had left.

Their work clothes and boots were all the fire fighting equipment they had. The drinking water they saved. They formed a single line and set about beating the flames with their jackets. The shirts were next and then their trousers. As daylight turned to dusk they fought on with just their leather work boots. When the neighbours arrived they found a strange sight. Five men clad in smoke darkened Stanfield’s Long John underwear, arms folded across their chests, stomping on the burning wheat with leather boots. They were singing the Beer Barrel Polka as their feet moved up and down to a 2/4 beat. It took a while for the rescuers to convince the group to stop. Help had arrived.

Grandmother told us, “Your grandfather never danced again,” and she tucked the picture back into the album with a chuckle.