Home sweet home: Connors' house rebuilt in time for Christmas
As Abbotsford Police Sgt. Judy Dizy led Bill Connor by the hand to the front door of his newly renovated home on Friday afternoon, he paused.
"You're supposed to open the door, boss," Dizy laughed.
Connor did as directed and then turned to address the crowd of volunteers and media gathered behind him.
"Take your boots off!" he joked as he stepped onto the recently laid hardwood floor and into his new living room, along with his wife Ann and their son John.
Less than six weeks ago, the Connor family almost lost their 60-year-old home, located on Downes Road just east of Bradner Road. A chimney blaze left only the shell of the house, and the family didn't have insurance.
The trio's future was in question, but Bill, who has lived on the property since he was two years old and is now in his 80s, didn't want to move.
A massive volunteer effort – started by members of the Abbotsford Firefighters Charitable Society and the Abbotsford Police Union – resulted in a groundswell of support from throughout the Lower Mainland.
Dizy helped coordinate the initiative along with her husband, firefighter Craig Bird, and Abbotsford Police Const. Paul Walker. The entire home was rebuilt, using donated supplies and volunteer labour, at no cost to the family.
New furniture, cabinets, countertops and appliances were provided, as were a new septic field, main water service, roof, and electrical and plumbing systems.
Outside, the property was cleaned up and landscaping was done. A new driveway will be poured once the weather improves.
Final touches in the home included a decorated Christmas tree, a fresh apple pie on the kitchen counter, and a framed collage of old photos, including Bill playfully propping a young John on his shoulders.
Dizy said donations came in from about 170 businesses, and there were so many offers that four homes could have been built. About 200 people volunteered their skills and time.
"We can't thank the community enough … We wouldn't have been able to do this without them. We're talking thousands and thousands of man hours," she said.
The goal from the start of the renovation four weeks ago was to have the Connors back in their home by Christmas. They have been staying in a hotel – also paid for by donations – since the Nov. 11th fire.
Walker said the experience, and seeing the family back in their home, was rewarding.
"It's overwhelming. The tears are holding back," he said at the scene.
About 200 supporters came to see the big "reveal," and Dizy read a letter to them on behalf of the Connors.
"We appreciate all the help from everyone. We have no words at this time to really show our feelings," the letter stated.
Walker said having finished the project in such a short time frame is a relief to all those involved.
"Our goal is complete. They are home. That's all that matters."