3 buildings in Virden's 'Exchange District' destroyed by fire, mayor says

A piece of heritage in the southwestern Manitoba town went up in flames after a fire destroyed three of Virden’s brick-facade heritage buildings Saturday morning.

Buildings were part of row of heritage structures in southwestern Manitoba town

Firefighters put out hot spots in Virden Saturday evening. (Jeff McConnell/Twitter)

A piece of heritage in a southwestern Manitoba town went up in flames after a fire destroyed three of Virden's brick-facade heritage buildings and damaged a fourth Saturday morning.

The buildings on Seventh Avenue were built more than a century ago, said Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell. The fire started in one building that housed an electronics store and spread to two adjacent buildings.

McConnell said the fire broke out around 5 a.m. When he arrived, the fire had destroyed the top half of the two-storey building where the fire started and thick, black smoke billowed from the centre, where firefighters were pumping water in an effort to save the adjacent buildings.

After fire spread to the left of the first building, firefighters knocked down the fronts of both buildings in an effort to get at the flames, McConnell said. Ultimately, the fire destroyed three buildings and also charred the exterior of a fourth building, which houses the Terry McLean Art Gallery.

"That whole section of buildings has been around since the early 1900s and possibly the late 1800s," said McConnell. All three buildings had recently been featured in the film A Dog's Purpose.

"This is like our Exchange District. There was close to 30 heritage buildings in the downtown of Virden. Just an incredible  number of heritage buildings in a small community, all preserved, all ready to be continued to be used and lively, and now a piece of that is gone."

McConnell said the row of buildings now looks like a "gap-toothed smile."

There are no reports of any injuries because of the fire and no word yet on what might have caused it.

McConnell said he's "emotional" about losing the buildings.

"It's one of the best things about this community," he said. "It's one of the things that I enjoyed about living here and losing it is tough."

Wallace District Fire Chief Brad Yochim said the cause of the fire is still being investigated. A damage estimate was not yet available Sunday morning. 

Virden is about 270 kilometres west of Winnipeg.