FORT FRANCES—After much planning, the Dance Fire monument is set to be unveiled this Friday (Oct. 10) at 11 a.m. to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the tragic blaze that swept away 17 lives on Thanksgiving Day in 1938.
The unveiling will be held at the corner of Lanny LaBelle’s property (located just off of Highway 613 North past the Dance Hall Road), which historically was Frank LaBelle’s homestead where 12 of the casualties occurred within a half-mile, making that property the perfect site for the memorial.
The ceremony will include the unveiling of the monument, as well as speeches, a piper, and representatives from the four families who lost loved ones that day.
Afterwards, everyone is invited to the Dance Hall for a luncheon, where there also will be the opportunity to pre-order the book written by Neil McQuarrie on the Dance Fire.
The book is not ready yet due to some recent minor glitches, but soon will be available at various locations across the district.
Meanwhile, the gathering itself is expected to be a very emotional affair.
“[The victims] have been forgotten for 70 years and now they are finally able to be remembered in a way that they deserve,” noted Rosanne Farmer, a member of the monument committee.
“It’s about paying respects,” she added. “In a way this is like a funeral for all of them.
“Their funerals were well-attended back then, I’m sure, but this is kind of like the last goodbye. And I think it is a very fitting one.”
Although there were worries for some time among committee members about whether or not enough funds would be there to see the site fully completed in time for the anniversary, generous donations of time, supplies, effort, and the pavilion in its entirety has solved the problem.
Besides the monument and pavilion, the committee also has arranged for there to be markers indicating the exact place where each victim fell. This is being done in order to effectively mark each resting place so people will be able to remember each lost life with honour and reverence.
“It’s about the people who died,” stressed Farmer, whose family lost members to the fire.
She explained that while the survivors are going to get a chance to grieve and have some more closure with those loved ones who passed, it is more about those who passed than anything.
“It has been a long time coming,” she remarked. “It’s a part of our history, as well as the history of the district.”
Farmer said the fire changed the lives of those in Dance Township, it changed the way the Ministry of Natural Resources practices, and it changed the rules about where houses could be built and how far the brush needed to be from them.
“So this is about history and it is about today,” she reasoned.
The committee would like to express its gratitude to all of those who made this monument possible.
Farmer noted there were so many who helped out, in both small and large ways, that she really couldn’t list them all, but she is very grateful for them.
And she assured everyone that the event will be very moving, adding, “If a person doesn’t shed a tear, I’ll be really surprised.
“I’m bringing a box of Kleenex.”
(Fort Frances Times)