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Volunteers serve up renovation plan for Fort McMurray bar closed since wildfire

Rather than see another St Patrick's day go by without their local watering hole, volunteers and contractors are raising money, muscle and materials to help rebuild one of the Fort McMurray's better known haunts.

Paddy McSwiggins has been closed for two and a half years

Paddy McSwiggins's doors have been closed since the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Money, materials and muscle have come together to help a Fort McMurray pub owner who has been struggling to rebuild after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.

Rather than see another St Patrick's Day pass without their local watering hole, Billy Martin helped assemble a team of donors, volunteers and contractors to help rebuild one of Fort McMurray's better-known haunts: Paddy McSwiggins.

"It's a Fort McMurray landmark," said Martin, who was one of the pub's patrons.

Billy Martin is leading the bar makeover. (David Thurton/ CBC)
 

Today the bar's windows are covered with orange tarps and its signature yellow siding is fading.

"Sad to say it's an eyesore right now," Martin said. "It's a scar on the community."

This isn't the first time Martin has taken on a makeover challenge.

The local contractor and his volunteers grabbed provincial headlines when he and other Fort McMurray volunteers repaired and renovated a mobile home for the family of a little girl with heart issues.

At the time they called it "Extreme Makeover Fort McMurray Edition." 

Therapy on tap

Before the fire, Paddy McSwiggins was a gathering place for many. It was the kind of place, Martin said, where one could walk in and know everyone.

The kind of place where you can unload and confide in familiar faces.

Therapy was on tap even if you didn't order a drink.

Money, materials and muscle have come together to help a Fort McMurray pub owner who has been struggling to rebuild after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. 1:26

Martin and others want to bring that back.

"That's how we are marketing it," Martin said. "Get Fort Mac back to normal."

'This bar has been 20 years of my life'

On Monday evening the fundraising team met inside the pub to launch the campaign.

Owner Gareth Norris reminisced with old customers and reflected on how difficult the last two years have been to get the bar up and running.

In May 2016, staff left the ventilation system on, which sucked in wildfire ash and debris during the month-long evacuation.

The bar sustained heavy smoke damage. 

Gareth Norris owns Paddy McSwiggins. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The wood panelling, carpets and insulation had to be thrown out.

Unlike other businesses, Norris has had a hard time getting his insurance company to cover the costs.

The battle, which is now in court, has taken a toll on Norris and his wife.

They have drained their retirement savings still paying their monthly commercial rent for the bar.

Now, with the help of the fundraising group, Martin and Norris hope they can raise enough to do the needed repairs.

Norris estimates with the help of loans and business grants he'll be able to cover most of the $800,000 to replace appliances, the floors and the walls but still needs help raising the remaining $300,000.

"This bar has been 20 years of my life," Norris said. "It's been everything to me. It's what feeds my kids. It's what pays my mortgage."

Norris hopes to finally re-open his bar in March, in time for St Patrick's Day.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.