Brandon Boxing Club rising from the ashes 6 months after devastating fire
Club was destroyed in May fire that remains under investigation
If mirrors could tell stories, one that sits in Noel Harding's new boxing club would have quite the story to tell. Stained with ash and dried water marks, it's a reminder of what Harding and his club have been through in the last six months.
"I still can't believe it," he said.
It was six months ago next week that the Brandon Boxing Club — the club Harding has successfully ran alongside his mother for nearly 20 years — was levelled in a devastating fire. Not only did the blaze claim much of the club's equipment and some of his personal mementos, it destroyed his home away from home and left his members without a place to train.
Now, he's on track to open his new club as early as next week.
"When it's done, it's going to look like the best boxing gym in Canada," Harding told CBC News. "It's going to be a hub for boxing on the prairies."
Fire destroys club
Harding's previous location was in one of four buildings that caught fire. In May, flames spread from an office supply store to other buildings in Brandon's downtown. The blaze levelled the office supply store, the small strip mall next door that housed the club, as well as a beer vendor about a block away. An apartment building was also heavily damaged.
Harding believes he lost about $100,000 in equipment in the fire. Firefighters managed to save some of his title belts and other valuables. He didn't have insurance on the contents of the club.
Immediately after the fire, he and his members took to the street in front of the club to train, before moving to a vacant lot and other locations.
He's now busy stocking his new club — located in an old furniture store — with boxing rings, mirrors and other equipment.
Along with the mirror, other items he saved from the ruins will adorn the walls and floor, like some wall pads and the main boxing ring — which required some new welds and a fresh coat of paint.
Importance of downtown
Harding said it will cost a lot more to run the club in its new location but he didn't get into boxing for the money. And while he has lost members since the fire due to a lack of a permanent location, he's confident they'll come back.
Being downtown again was important because Harding wants to see the city's hub thrive. He said while it's disappointing the city denied him funding in exchange for free programming for youth, he's committed to helping them and others in the community regardless. Harding also wants to support those recovering from addiction.
"Brandon is a great city," he said. "The city seems to support new, athletic endeavours. It's going to be full. I'm not worried."
His new club — at Rosser Ave. and 14th St. — still needs an occupancy permit from the city. Harding says he'll be ready to open the doors as soon as that's in place.
"It's been a real roller coaster this summer," he said. "But now that we've got a home, I hope that everybody decides to come back and help build our team."
Harding says he still has a long way to go, but is hopeful everything will come together soon.
"I love this community," Harding said. "And I want to give back and try and change our community."