Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Cabin destined to be a mental health haven for first responders

By Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative reporter   

Headlines News Health and Wellness firefighters First Responders mental health

Aug. 8, 2023, Dawn-Euphemia Township, Ont. – In a leafy clearing in Dawn-Euphemia Township, the spirit of Dalles Bergsma lives on.

That’s where his family is building a respite cabin to honour the legacy of the young farmer and volunteer firefighter who took his own life in 2020.

“Everyone was blindsided by it,” his mother Diane Bergsma told The Voice in a recent interview. “No one had any clue Dalles was suffering.

“All we saw was his smile.”

In response to the devastating loss, the Bergsma family has launched an ambitious project to help members of the agricultural community and first responders deal with mental health issues. Dubbed the “Three Oaks Respite Cabin,” the effort will provide a safe haven for people to rest and regroup from stress or trauma that impacts – even threatens – their lives.

With the official opening set for this November, Three Oaks will not only provide respite, it will offer self-directed mental health programs at no cost. The space will be made available to host groups and plans are also in the works to provide follow-up therapy.

The Bergmas are working with the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance and trained therapists to develop programming.

According to Diane, providing the service free of charge helps reduce the obstacles faced by those needing help.

“That’s the whole point,” Diane said. “We want to remove the barriers.”

To help fund the initiative and raise awareness about mental health in the farming and first responder communities, organizers are putting on Shifting Gears, a tractor parade, on Aug. 12. It begins at 887 Shetland Rd. near Florence, goes around the country block and ends at the Florence Community Centre.

Registration for the event is by donation and the Bergsmas are hoping spectators will come out to line the parade route in a show of support.

The one-of-a-kind 1,400 sq. foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom log cabin, is located on a 50-acre woodlot in Dawn-Euphemia north of Dresden. It’s a collaboration between Diane, her husband Al, and Dalles’ six surviving siblings.

Diane said the family is “compelled to share their story,” having had no idea of the threat of completed suicide as it relates to men in agriculture.

“We saw Dalles daily in our day-to-day farming operations,” explained Diane, adding Dalles and his wife were part of the family’s joint farming business. “He had just put up a new hog finishing facility…we didn’t know.”

Since the tragedy, the Bergsmas have learned a great deal about the unique mental health challenges farmers face.

“There are so many unknowns…weather…crop prices,” Diane said. “It creates stress.”

Dalles, who was 27 when he died, had purchased his first farm at age 18 and was happily married to his childhood sweetheart.

“We didn’t know anything was wrong,” Diane added. “It was right under our noses.”

Diane said men having to be tough and not showing their emotions is another factor in the mental health challenge.

“Generally speaking, they are salt-of-the-earth people who contribute and give without expecting a reward,” she said. “There are a lot of unspoken expectations…men aren’t allowed to show emotion. We want to help them live with joy.”

To register for the Shifting Gears event or learn more about the Three Oaks project visit gears.

– Chatham Voice

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