A prominent Manitoba children's entertainer has lost his life's work after his storage shed with all his props inside went up in flames a week ago.
Al Simmons, a prop-comedy children's entertainer who has toured Canada and the U.S. extensively, lost most of his props after a fire in his "Magic Workshop," said longtime friend Heather Bishop.
"I openly started to cry at what a loss that was," after she heard the news, said Bishop.
"I immediately emailed Al, and said 'Al, please, let me help. Let me do a GoFundMe campaign for you' ... it took me four or five days to bring him around to the idea that it's OK to need help and please let us help you.
"Do you know how much joy it would give us knowing that we could help you when you have given us so much?"
Reached at his home, Simmons said he initially wasn't going to tell anyone about the fire.
"I guess my worry is that my function on this earth, I believe that I've been put here to make people laugh. I don't want to step on stage and have people feel sorry for me.
"I want people to realize that I'm not giving up. I'm going to be back, I'm going to keep going. There's no stopping me."
The props Simmons uses in his shows are entirely of his own creation and are made from recycled parts. They have taken him a lifetime to create and simply can't be immediately replaced, Bishop said.
"I've lost priceless items that in no way I can rebuild. My upright, Bb, 5-bell, 12-valve baritone simbonium, which breaks my heart to even say that."
Watch Simmons playing the baritone simbonium:
The fundraiser will help where insurance won't, said Bishop.
"I set a low [fundraising] goal of $20,000, I'm hoping to double that. The problem is that his creations are made out of recycled, reused old stuff that takes days, weeks, years to find, collect … There's no way in the world insurance is covering any of his inventions."
While the money won't immediately replace Simmons' props, Bishop is hopeful the money will give him the means and the time to rebuild some of his props for upcoming shows.
"Nobody in the world makes such genius props as Al. He's a unique Canadian treasure in that way … his inventions are beyond description. Each one of them … makes you laugh, makes you double over."
A day after the fire, Simmons had a benefit show and said he and his wife Barbara stayed up late putting together a routine for the show. As more shows come up, more props will be rebuilt or new ones will be born, he said.
"I've always changed my show. This is an abrupt change."
Bishop said she didn't know how the fire started. "I do know he was able to run in and try to save a couple of things. He told me that he had managed to get Old Spoke, his wonderful bicycle, out of there. It's highly damaged but knowing Al, he'll probably be able to bring it back to life."
Simmons confirmed Old Spoke will ride again. "It's just in a little bit rough shape that I need to tweak."
As for the fire, Simmons said the fire department told him it was likely an electrical problem. The storage shed is completely gone, he added.
Simmons is a Juno-award-winning entertainer, best known for his album Celery Stalks at Midnight and illustrated book Counting Feathers.
The Juno Simmons won survived, he added, noting he had lent it to a friend.
"We're OK. No one got hurt, and mentally I'm OK."
As of publishing, Bishop's GoFundMe campaign had reached more than $8,000, only hours after it was posted.
Watch Al Simmons in his workshop with some of his props: