Recent History – 2003-2005
July 18, 2003 — Jamie Dirom, Daily News Staff
Everyone but one was accounted for as the flames spread through the hotel. One-legged barber Billy Vincent was still inside. So in an act of heroism, Earl Richard Grant took the situation into his own hands, re-entering the burning building in an effort to rescue Vincent.
So the story goes.
It sounds a lot like fiction, but it’s a chunk of local history passed down through the generations. On Thursday, Earl’s nephews, John Grant of Kelowna and Dennis Grantof Grande Prairie were in Rolla to pay respects to the uncle they never knew.
When Earl entered the burning hotel that night, it was the last time he was ever seen alive. Billy Vincent lost his life in the fire as well. In 1919, Earl’s dad – John and Dennis’s grandfather – built the Northern Hotel in Rolla.
It was the summer of 1921 and Earl was a student at the Butte School of Mines. His father was away on business in Saskatchewan, so he was looking after the hotel when the fire broke out.
“(Vincent) wasn’t accounted for, so Earl went in to try to get him out and neither of them were heard from again,” said John.
“Our grandfather left here at that time, and that ended our connection with Rolla.”
The story remained in the family, and five years ago John found Earl’s grave – possibly influenced in part by a surprising coincidence when he was curling in Kelowna a year or two previous. One of the people at the rink was wearing a Rolla reunion ball cap, so John asked the man if he’d ever heard about the hotel fire. The man told him he’d watched the fire as a small boy. But that wasn’t the striking part. The man told John: “As a matter of fact, my uncle lost his life in that fire.”
On Thursday, John and Dennis were at the Rolla Cemetery to install a plaque at Earl’s grave.
“It’s important to remember the dead,” said Dennis. “It’s important for your family to remember where you’ve been.”
Rediscovering their lost uncle helped the brothers shed a little light on where they came from. They’d always known Earl was Dennis’s middle name, but until they looked into it further, they had no idea that John shared his uncle’s middle name – Richard.
Said Dennis: “This is one uncle that we didn’t know much about.”
This article is taken from the Peace River Block Daily News, Dawson Creek, with the permission of the publisher. The Daily News retains all rights relating to this material. The information in this article is intended solely for research or general interest purposes.