By Jeff Mahoney, The Hamilton Spectator
Sparky Harper has always been good on his feet.
You kind of have to be when you're standing on a steel girder 100 feet up in the air with no fall protection harnesses like the ironworkers have now. Equally so on the dance floor, where there's never been a safety net, and if you're not sure of your steps, you look a bit foolish and everyone knows.
Sparky has always danced exceedingly well, and as recently as last year, at age 99, he was still hoofing it up at the regular clog hops.
"He was out-polka-ing us into his 90s," says daughter Shirley Kossowski, who is a formidable dancer in her own right and maybe the only person I've ever met who's used the word "out-polka-ing," which should definitely be accepted in Scrabble.
"I always knew how to dance," he says, when I ask him if he'd ever had lessons. "Nobody had to teach me."
But most of the climbing he did was as an ironworker, helping build schools, bridges and other structures, here and in Toronto. He did jobs for Stelco and Dofasco, and earlier in his career, he did work in the United States.
"We put the peaks on buildings," says Sparky, who came to Ontario from Alberta as a boy, with his parents and their large family — 13 of them stuffed into a truck. He lives in Brantford now but lived most of his life in Hamilton, with spells in towns like Tweed and Wiarton.
"At the legion, when you lived in Wiarton, all the ladies would line up to dance with you," says daughter Lorraine Harper.
His ironworker job often meant getting up high, in the cold and the heat, and it was as perilous as it sounds.
"We used to work in our bare feet to get more grip," Sparky remembers. He saw a man fall to his death once. He also fell. "Actually, I was knocked off," he explains, by a load of lumber that swung into him while he was a couple of storeys up. He broke his ankle and heel.
But, mostly, he got through in one piece, did Sparky.
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