Darlene Foster's Blog

What was Lost in the Fire

Posted on: October 25, 2017

I was sad to hear of the recent devasting prairies fires near Hilda where I was raised in southern Alberta. Many farms and ranches were affected as wildfires, spurred by high winds, raced through acres of land destroying property, machines, stored grain, feed and livestock. In efforts to contain the fires, volunteer firefighters worked tirelessly. One young volunteer, a father of three, lost his life when the water tank truck he was driving overturned. I learned he was the son of a former schoolmate of mine. My heart goes out to his wife and children. Fires are so awful.


A photo I used as a prompt for my writing workshop in Vancouver.

Our family was not spared, although not to such a great degree.  The house my great-grandfather, Henry Hoffman, built in 1915 soon after immigrating to Canada was destroyed when the fires swept through the homestead. Although the house stood vacant for years it contained many memories. My own mom, Henry and Katherina’s granddaughter, was born in this house almost 89 years ago. By the time I was born, my great-grandparents had retired to the city and it was their son, my great uncle John, who lived in the house with his wife and family. Since we lived nearby and they were our favourite relatives, I spent many happy times sharing meals and playing with my second cousins at this place.


A recent picture of the Hoffman house taken by Debbie Hoffman Nagel, granddaughter of Henry and Katherina Hoffman.

Over the years, whenever in the area, we would visit the homestead and reminisce. I particularly loved the old barn, built from rocks and clay by my great-grandfather, as it had so much character. Sad to say it was also destroyed by the recent wildfire.


The barn built by Great Grandpa Hoffman

This was not the first time fire has visited this farm. Back in 1910 when they first arrived at their homestead, a wooden shack was built for Henry and Katherina, their four small children and Henry’s parents to live in. While they were all out digging a well one day, a suspicious fire consumed their shack. Not to be deterred, they replaced it with two sod shacks until the large two-story wooden building was built to accommodate the growing family. Nine additional children were born in this house. Sadly, as often happened in those days, only five survived infancy. The nine surviving children produced hundreds of descendants who remember this farm with fondness.

afterthefire (1)

What was left after the prairie fire, October 2017

The buildings are gone, but the memories will live forever through pictures and stories from the many descendants of these enterprising people.


A picture taken in 1927 of  Great Grandpa Henry Hoffman standing outside the house and barn he built.


Henry and Katherina with their children and some of their grandchildren, taken in 1942.

Note: The pictures are a collection of mine and my cousin’s.

51 Responses to "What was Lost in the Fire"

This is so sad, Darlene. I feel for you. It is the kind of thing that should never happen. Just keep the happy memories of this lovely place and your wonderful family. Big hug to you all. ❤❤❤

Thanks, Fatima. It is sad, but others lost so much more.

That is true. I suppose we must be grateful that your family were safe and spare a thought for those tragic losses, both in Canada and in Galicia.

I am sad too for all that was lost. Place is often a bold character in the settings of our stories and to lose them is devastating. In the States, summer wildfires devastated Oregon and California. Huge hugs to you and your family!

Thanks, Marian. There have been many bad fires this year with so much terrible loss.

I am so sorry you lost your old family home. Fires are very scary and so destructive. We had some awful ones here in California.

I have seen pictures of the terrible fires in California. We didn´t lose any family members or our livelihood, so we count our blessings.

Darlene, it is hard to see what you love just disappear in smoke. I am glad to see all beautiful photos you have left so your family can see and know.

We are fortunate to have these pictures to remember the past.

Darlene, so sorry to hear about this. I was thinking of you when I read about the fires in Alberta. They happened at about the same time as the terrible fires in Napa Valley in California. But of course I had no idea that homes of your family were affected. So sad.

Thanks, Christa. I hope none of your family or friends were affected by the terrible fires in California. Fortunately, it was an old, unlived-in house. I guess we just thought it would be there forever. Others suffered much worse.

Fortunately, none of my friends were affected. The wineries and vintners I visited for my research are in the Paso Robles area in the Central Coast of California, which is much further south than Napa Valley. Of course, we always deal with fires in the immediate area, but the coastal towns where I live are usually spared thank God.

What a sad loss for your family. I am so glad you were all safe.🌼

Thanks. Nothing lasts forever. Fortunately, no one lived there anymore and the house had no value, other than sentimental.

I’m sorry you lost family buildings in the recent fires. What a shame! Thank you for sharing your wealth of photos, though. Those are treasures.

Thank heaven our family takes tons of photos. (and saves them!) You can see how someone carefully added the date on the very old one.

I’m sorry that the homestead was destroyed by fire but as you say, you have wonderful memories.

Thanks, Karen. It’s the memories that count.

Great article Darlene! Thanks for keeping our family history alive!

So pleased you liked it, Debbie. Thanks for your pictures!!

I can only imagine, Darlene. Sorry to her that your great-grandfather’s house was destroyed. The fires here in California ripped through thousands of acres, and so many lost so much. Disasters like this make us take note of all that we’re grateful for ♥

This is so true. Thanks for commenting.

So very sad, Darlene. Thank goodness there many relatives and many memories. Best to you!

I am so grateful for my large family. Thanks.

You’re welcome, Darlene.

Yes, Darlene, we all thought the house and barn would be there forever…thank you for your words, memorializing those structures that were home for our beloved family members, and whose hard work, love and faith still carries on in our memories and hearts.

You are so welcome my dear cousin. I think we all felt an important part of us had been taken away when we heard the sad news.

Sorry to hear of the devastating loss but hope the memories will live on. What a large family. I’m sure there are many memories to share and keep close to your hearts. Hugs.

The stories will be passed on over the years and thankfully we are a family of picture takers. I love that I come from such a large family, one that keeps in touch too.

So sad to hear the homestead was caught in the fire. But, I enjoyed your memories of life there. Hope your preserve your memories for your children.

Those stories and pictures will be passed on through many generations. There are so many good memories!

So sorry this happened Darlene. Such a tragic loss. May you savour the memories.

Thanks, Sue. Prairie fires can be so devasting. Fortunately, we have some very good memories.

That’s terrible, Darlene, I’m so sorry. It’s one of the things we all dread, losing our home and contents in a fire. It’s amazing how many descendants have happy memories of that house and barn. You have some wonderful old photos.

We are fortunate to have some great pictures of the place. I´m sure there are many more. Fires are just horrible.

I was so sorry to read this Darlene but while there are family members to hand down the stories, it will not be forgotten. I went back to visit my parent’s house last year only to find it had been knocked down. I was really saddened, but I still think of it as it was and have to remind myself it’s no longer there. I hope you can feel like that one day.
I feel so sorry for the fire-fighters family, such a terrible thing.

I guess these old homes aren´t meant to last forever. Another reason to keep the stories going. I have since learned that the firefighter who lost his life, lost his father due to a farm accident, his mother to cancer and his sister in a car accident. Some families have such ill luck.

Sorry to hear about the prairie fires….love your sharing the memories of the of family homestead….those can never be taken away. My heart goes out to the firefighter’s family.

Having lived through tornadoes, earthquakes and brush fires….the brush fires scare me the most…so horrific….my thoughts and prayers go out to all those people impacted by the prairie fires in Southern Alberta!!

Thanks for your kind words Kirt. Fires were always my dad´s biggest fear which makes sense as there was nothing to stop them on the prairies once started and not much water around.

We went through some horrific fires in San Diego during our 24 years living there….in the prairie there isn’t anything to stop those grass fires…and the ones we experienced in Southern California even with fire fighters…they move so fast……so very fast….

So sorry the fires affected your family’s homestead, Darlene. Your pictures are wonderful. I especially enjoyed looking at the big family group!

Thanks, Marcia. So many more children were born after that picture was taken. We have family reunions that have over 200 attending, all descendants of those two people!

These are great memories and great photos. Fire is so destructive as is water. Sea floods on the Cumbrian coast in 1967 destroyed everything inside our house after I had left home and many precious photos were lost.

Darlene, just discovered that my following of your blog had been unfollowed! How can that happen?

Not sure how that happened. Glad you found me again.

Fire and water are two dangerous elements.

This is lovely. I love old barns and as a childhood farm girl, rural areas are still fascinating.

I don’t think the farm upbringing ever really leaves us. Thanks so much for stopping in.

No, i wish every child could have this experience. The fires are horrific, seems like a natural catastrophe every day!

So sorry to hear of the devastation from the wildfires. The house and barn stood strong for many years.

Yes, it did. It had staying power just like the folks who lived in it! But like all things, there has to be an end.

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