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Farm community rallies around one of its own

Manitoba’s rural community is rallying around a Ste. Rose farm family who lost their home to a fire April 28 while they were in Winnipeg receiving leukemia treatments for their critically ill toddler.

Friends say Rob and Erin Brunel have been overwhelmed by outpouring of support. Brunel is well known for his activities in farm organizations, including serving as chair of the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ grains, oilseeds and pulses committee and the Canadian Young Farmers Forum.

“Rob is pretty humbled by all this attention,” said KAP president Doug Chorney, who visited the Brunels at the hospital May 4, taking some toys to replace those the family lost in the fire.

“I know not just KAP but the whole industry, the Canadian Young Farmers Forum and many people who Rob’s been involved with over his ag-political career have really rallied around the family,” Chorney said.

While in Ottawa testifying before the standing committee last week, Chorney said he was regularly approached by those who’ve heard of the family’s plight. “I had Canadian Federation of Agriculture officials and past presidents asking about them. There were MPs, like Bob Sopuck, expressing their concern. Across Canada everyone is worrying about them.”

The family home caught fire after Brunels had travelled to Winnipeg to receive leukemia treatments for two-year-old son Larsen, who has been battling the disease over the past nine months. Their four-year-old daughter Myley was at home with her grandparents, but all escaped without injury.

Stories in the Winnipeg Free Press and on television have prompted widespread offers of help for the young farm family, who are living in the small Winnipeg condo they rented after their son became ill. Their house was insured. The cause of the fire was being investigated.

Deloraine-area farmer Glen Franklin, chair of KAP’s District 1, said at week’s end he knew email traffic between District 1 members was prompting people to make donations to help the family. “Everyone’s thought, gol’ darn, here’s a guy who’s really worked hard for all Manitoba farmers. We should be doing something,” Franklin said.

People offering financial support are being directed to any Royal Bank of Canada branch, where friends of the Brunels have opened a trust account to take donations on the family’s behalf.

CancerCare organized a press conference last Thursday so Rob and Erin could speak to media. The number of calls to the family by reporters had become overwhelming.

Chorney, who has daily contact with the family through phone calls and texts, said the couple has hired a full-time employee to help Rob’s father seed this year’s crop.

“It’s an emotional roller-coaster for their family,” he said. “This latest tragedy is obviously nothing anyone would ever expect to have to deal with.”

Chorney said the couple is keeping an optimistic outlook. “He’s got a ‘we’re going to beat this’ attitude.”

The couple has stressed their son’s survival is what matters most. “If we’d lost the house and hadn’t been dealing with cancer with our son, yeah, it’d be a big deal,” Brunel said in a Free Press article. “But our son is our son. The house is a secondary loss, but it’s not the most important thing… There’s only one thing we don’t want to lose. We’re going to focus on that.”

The Brunels have asked that the public help by signing up for the bone marrow registry (through the Canadian Blood Services website), or donating blood, or supporting CancerCare Manitoba.

Meanwhile, family and friends of the Ste. Rose couple have also begun a massive Facebook campaign to lobby television contractor and handyman Mike Holmes to help the family out by coming to Ste. Rose to rebuild their house. Pleas such as “Mike, the community has banded together to support the Brunels as much as they can, but your helping them out would top it all,” was among numerous postings on

Erin posted on Facebook May 4 that Larsen is scheduled for a bone marrow transplant May 31. His four-year-old sister will be the donor. Erin also said the little boy had completed his chemotherapy treatments and they now wait to see if his cell count begins to recover.

She thanked all those expressing their support and kind words for their family.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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