British Columbia

'It's no longer really Paris': British Columbians react to Notre Dame fire

British Columbians, like people around the world, reacted in shock and disbelief after a fire ripped through the centuries-old Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris Monday.

'Something that you can't even begin to think ... beyond anything that one would ever imagine'

The view from a boat on the River Seine as the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris goes up in flames. (Benoit Labonne)

British Columbians, like people around the world, reacted in shock and disbelief after a fire ripped through the centuries-old Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris Monday.

Flames that began in the early evening burst through the roof of the beloved structure and engulfed the spire, which collapsed and was quickly followed by the entire roof.

Firefighters stopped the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry and the cathedral's main structure has been saved from complete destruction. The fire is being treated as an accident.

Geoffrey Finch, originally from Victoria, leads a walking tour company in Paris. He watched the fire tear through the UNESCO World Heritage site with his daughter, Chloe.

A crowd watches as flames engulf the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. (Benoit Labonne)

"Seeing this is just something that you can't even begin to think. It goes beyond anything that one would ever imagine," Geoffrey Finch told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

"What is Paris without Notre Dame? It's no longer really Paris."

Chloe Finch echoed those comments.

"It's like 900 years of history crumbling right in front of us," she said. "Everyone is silent. Everyone is staring at this, taking pictures, and I think they're all in shock, like I am."

Dramatic video

Dawson Creek resident Benoit Labonne was on a boat ride down the Seine River Monday and captured the scene as smoke filled the skies.

'The stones tell a history'

John Paul Sonnen, from Chilliwack, leads tours to churches and cathedrals around the world and is also a writer with the B.C. Catholic newspaper and other publications.

He said he visits the cathedral every year, along with the millions who take it in annually.

"Notre Dame has spirit at the very centre of French — and indeed all European — history for nearly a thousand years," Sonnen said. "The stones tell a history. They speak a language."

His greatest concern is for the many sacred relics that were stored in the cathedral, some dating to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

Smoke fills the air as the Notre-Dame Cathedral's famous spire burns. (Benoit Labonne)

He's still planning a tour to the cathedral for this year and says he will be praying for firefighters and those involved in the restoration.

But he takes heart knowing the cathedral will be rebuilt, "bigger and better than ever."

Listen to the full story:

Geoffrey Finch, originally from Victoria, leads a walking tour company in Paris. He watched the fire tear through the UNESCO World Heritage site with his daughter, Chloe. 6:43
John Paul Sonnen, from Chilliwack, leads tours to churches and cathedrals around the world and is also a writer the BC Catholic newspaper and other publications. 4:31

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast and Thomson Reuters

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