On Friday the community of Abbotsford staged a new home reveal for a family in need that rivaled anything depicted in a Hollywood TV show.
Virtually a month after 88-year-old Bill Connor, his wife Annie, 86, and their son John were burned out of their house, the community of Abbotsford has pulled together to completely rebuild their rural home.
A convoy that included a fire engine and police car, with lights flashing and sirens wailing, ferried the Connors to their Downes Road property at noon. Bundled out of the vehicle into the driving snow, the family was quickly herded behind a bright red fire engine blocking the view of their new abode.
In the meantime, the hundreds of volunteers, donors and fire and police officers that contributed to the project applauded the family's arrival. On a rousing count of three, the crowd yelled out, "Move that fire truck!"
The vehicle pulled out of the way so the elderly couple and their son could get a lookat the new home the community had come together to build for them.
The couple, flanked by the firefighters and police officers who organized the project, was left virtually speechless. The metamorphosis of the Connor house this month is an apt metaphor for the family's recent experiences.
The humble two-bedroom rancher was nearly destroyed by fire, then stripped inside and out before being built into something splendid by the generosity of the community.
As the couple waded through the crowd to inspect their new home, volunteers reached out to pat their shoulders or yell out, "Merry Christmas Bill! Merry Christmas Annie!"
Surrounded by a circle of TV cameras and photographers, the elderly couple gingerly explored their new home.
Not only had it been rebuilt but completely furnished and even decorated with their personal keepsakes.
Childhood pictures of Bill and Annie and an antique camera collection were artfully arranged in a bookcase.
There was even a freshly baked apple pie on the kitchen counter, and a decorated Christmas tree with gifts underneath was tucked off in a corner.
Annie was speechless while Bill uttered exclamations of surprise, as he was shown all the amenities in his new house.
"I'm feeling pretty good," he told the crowd.
The community rallied after learning that the Connors had been left homeless by a blaze that gutted their home Nov. 11. The Connors hadn't been able to afford repairs necessary to obtain fire insurance. Their house wasn't habitable and they lost everything but a couple of boxes of possessions.
They were overwhelmed and unsure of what would happen next.
But within days, the Abbotsford Firefighters Charitable Society and the Abbotsford Police Union stepped in to coordinate the offers of help that were pouring in for the family.
What's more, the two groups committed to rebuilding the house by Christmas, with Abbotsford firefighter Craig Bird and APD Const. Paul Walker acting as the project's foremen.
APD Sgt. Judy Dizy, who is Bird's wife, took on the role of coordinating the donations from the public.
"I've been living on the phone," said Dizy, who gets teary every time she recounts the overwhelming generosity of all the volunteers, residents and businesses that contributed to the home.
Any early doubts she had about completing the project in such a short time were erased immediately.
The day the Connors' story came out in the media, Dizy stopped by an Abbotsford appliance store to get something for her own kitchen.
Before leaving the store, its owner had committed to providing every single appliance the Connors might need.
And that kind of generosity has been the norm, not the exception.
Her husband echoed her sentiments.
Businesses didn't only provide the materials needed, but the volunteer trade labour to get things done, said Bird.
Multiple dump trucks of gravel arrived to redo the driveway and haul away debris from the fire and the yard. A new septic field and system were installed.
The exterior of the house has been freshly painted and stuccoed while new windows and a fireplace were installed.
City of Abbotsford workers raised the funds for water line connections. Then city employees from the building and waterworks department installed the pipes and system on their own time.
Firefighters and police officers often rolled off night shifts and arrived to labour on the house, said Bird.
In the meantime, area businesses, residents, church groups and coffee klatches showed up with hot food and drink to make sure the labourers never went hungry.
More than 200 people have committed thousands of dollars in materials or volunteer hours to the project.
"Our budget was zero dollars," said Bird. "We haven't paid one dollar. Absolutely everything has been donated."
Bird stressed Abbotsford's police and fire departments were just ambassadors for what in essence was a community project.
"It was the community that stepped up," he said.
"Everybody's kindness and graciousness has been overwhelming."
Const. Walker, who has done everything on site from pushing a broom to operating an excavator, said despite spending long hours away from his young family, the project was one of the most rewarding experiences in his life.
"We have these unfortunate situations that put people in a bad place," he said.
"But when the community comes together this is an example of what can happen."