Sprucer of highways, Fort St. John's beloved 'Grandpa Vance' dies at 86

·2 min read

A stretch of Highway 97 near Fort St. John has lost a familiar fixture: Vance Dancy, known to many as "Grandpa Vance," passed away at the age of 86 on Oct. 26.

Dancy gained fame in the last two decades of his life as a friendly presence along the highway, giving passersby a wave and a thumbs up as he picked up garbage along the side of the road while trudging along with a little cart.

His daughter Brenda Baumeister said the family looked upon his post-retirement hobby with much amusement.

"Sometimes, we used to say [we're] not sure how much work he actually got done because he was so busy waving at everybody. But you know what? That was his time and it was his way of giving back," Baumeister said to host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

Dancy was born in Swift Current, Sask. He worked as a firefighter at the local Fort St John airport, retiring at age 60.

That was when he decided to take up the highway cleanup patrol.

"He made it his job every day. He'd get out there early," said Baumeister.

Submitted by Brenda Baumeister
Submitted by Brenda Baumeister

Eventually, he became a well-known fixture in the community.

"They just knew that was Grandpa Vance," she said. "People were handing him out treats and they'd give him a coffee. And, you know, in those many years that he did this, people just knew that he was the gentleman that cleaned the highway."

Baumeister said kindness and positivity were an essential part of Dancy's outlook in life.

"He loved so many people. One thing about him, he was such a positive man. He never said anything mean about anybody. He welcomed anybody that would give him a hug," she said.

In a stream of messages posted on his online obituary, well-wishers posted about his big, genuine smile and the loss of a dear friend.

Even in the pandemic, when it was difficult to visit his wife who was in a long-term care facility, or give hugs to the community members who loved him, he kept smiling.

"Always be humble and kind, keep your chin up and stay strong, always stay positive and smile no matter what life throws at you," said Baumeister, about her late father's life philosophy.

"And that's how I feel as I drive up and down that highway. I still feel that he's there."