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Sask. community comes to the rescue

Young rancher loses fourth generation home to fire but vows to pick up the emotional pieces after outpouring of support
wp mckenzie farm
Tyson McKenzie, right, and his father David look over the burned out ruins of their fourth generation farmhouse near Delisle, Sask.

DELISLE, Sask. — The kindness of family, friends and strangers created a special Thanksgiving for Tyson McKenzie on Oct. 10.

An outpouring of gifts and support, ranging from money and household items to the clothes on his back, show people’s generosity and concern during a crisis.

Donations came after a Sept. 25 fire that destroyed McKenzie’s home.

The Delisle Fire Department responded but could not save the old farmhouse. No one was injured.

While the cause is believed to be arson and police continue to investigate, McKenzie, 29, vowed to pick up the emotional pieces.

He ranches with his parents, David and Leanne McKenzie, and two brothers, Kolton and Clayton, at the family’s four-generation ranch with 400 cow-calf pairs and a background feeding operation.

The house was originally built by McKenzie’s great grandfather on a small knoll overlooking a valley at the home ranch.

David McKenzie grew up in the home and Tyson McKenzie has been living in it for about seven years after his parents gave it to him.

He said the fire consumed all his clothes, furniture and cookware. Childhood farm toys and an antique rifle stored in the basement are now twisted hunks of melted plastic and steel.

“Our living is cattle and it’s pretty meagre at times,” said David McKenzie. “Tyson’s never had a mortgage, so we have to clean up the mess and he has to rebuild. There is some insurance, but it’s an old house so you’re not getting the value. It’s a down payment on something, basically.”

Within hours of the fire, an outpouring of support from neighbours swept through, which McKenzie said helped lighten his feelings of loss and anger.

Even as the farmhouse continued to smolder, people called to ask what he needed or appeared with gifts of cash, clothes and food. Some even helped wean the calves.

“A friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a long time come along and when he left, he stuffed an envelope in my pocket. When I opened it there was 20 $100 bills in it,” said David McKenzie.

Neighbours have long memories, he added.

“A friend sent a cheque for $500 and he said, ‘tell Tyson I still remember when your grandma and grandpa donated a bunch of clothes when we had our house fire.’ That was 25 years ago or more,” said David.

Another neighbour donated his trucking services to haul a semi-load of cattle free of charge. Others went shopping for clothes and gave Tyson gift cards valued at $1,000 for work wear.

The list of help and donations continues to grow.

Within a day of the fire, an online silent auction was launched by friends Greg Hunter and Karla Poletz. The weeklong event closed Oct. 10, during which more than 130 items were auctioned, most of them far above their actual value.

Jars of homemade pickles sold for $200, two dozen cinnamon buns raised $235 and a handstitched quilt brought $475.

“We had everything from photography sessions, to a bush hog mower, to golf passes, to cake, to gym membership, to Co-op gift cards. There was some horse tack, chainsaws, beef — honestly, if you could name it, it was in there,” said Poletz, who works at Saskatoon Livestock Sales.

The online event raised about $36,000 toward Tyson’s new house fund.

“It’s just a small-town thing. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose everything and have to start from scratch, so it’s just what communities do. You’re there for each other and you’re always willing to lend a hand and help someone out when they’re in need and you hope that’s what happens if you ever need it,” said Poletz.

“The McKenzies are a very well-known family and a very generous family in the community too. I’m sure they would do it for somebody else if the tables were turned.”

Added Hunter: “We had a really tough year. We’ve had no rain and everybody’s struggling a bit. And then this happened and he struggled some more. So I think everybody felt that and it’s a pretty tight-knit community. It’s always been like that and the ranching community stepped up together.”

Another auction was held for McKenzie at the community hall in Tessier, Sask., on Oct. 2. It was organized by Brad Johnson as part of a slow-pitch tournament and dance, and it raised about $8,000. A donated bred heifer sold for $3,550 and a bull sale credit brought $2,400.

Still another money-raising event was held at a neighbour’s farm Oct. 16, which raised about $3,000. As of Oct. 18 about $50,000 has been raised to help McKenzie build a new farmhouse.

He said the whirlwind of experiences over the last month have left him overwhelmed, shocked and surprised.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, he said he realized he had much to be grateful for.

“It’s turned my mood around. It’s turned my perspective around on the situation. It was bad and then people were willing to help out and now it’s turned into good,” he said.

“Lots of people cared. That’s kind of the main thing I took out of it.”

McKenzie said he hopes to start next spring on a new house.

“We’ve been keeping track of who donated because I want to do something for them — have the mother of all housewarmings after this house gets built,” he said.

Added David: “Tyson says he’s going to be paying this off the rest of his life, but I say, ‘You pay it off by being a good person. Next time somebody needs help, maybe you would have said before, I’m too busy. Maybe now you just say, yeah, I will come help you’.”