Fire razes buildings in historic Exchange District

Two buildings in Winnipeg's historic Exchange District were torn down on Thursday night, after fire gutted them earlier in the day.

Two buildings in Winnipeg's historic Exchange District were torn down on Thursday night, after fire gutted them earlier in the day.

Crews were called at about 9:30 a.m. to Albert Street and Notre Dame Avenue, where the fire broke out in a small store, War on Music.

The flames then spread to neighbouring Ken Hong restaurant, which shares the same building.

The two businesses are located between century-old hotels — the Royal Albert Arms and the St. Charles.

Thick, heavy smoke shrouded much of the city's downtown, including the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, as crews fought the flames.

By 12:30 p.m., several crews had left the scene and others were monitoring hot spots and cleaning up.

Cindy Tugwell at Heritage Winnipeg told CBC News she was heartbroken about the fire.

Just behind the businesses that burned was the oldest home in downtown, built in 1877.

'You can never get that back'

Tugwell's group fought years ago to save that section of Albert Street, which was eyed for demolition.

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Ken Zaifman, who owns the property as well as the St. Charles Hotel, wanted to develop a parking lot.

Tugwell succeeded in blocking the project, but the house and the attached building are now destroyed.

"It's like, oh my gosh, this is horrible. It's the oldest home in the downtown that's attached to it so it's a real shame, a real shame because you can never get that back, ever," she said Thursday.

Zaifman said he may consider an expansion of the St. Charles Hotel once the rubble on the site of the fire is cleared.

"It will accelerate the process. It wasn't our plan to have it demolished in this way, by a fire. It just makes those plans occur a little faster, that's all," he said.

Winnipeg police say the fire does not appear to be suspicious. City officials say damage estimates total $400,000.

The fire-damaged buildings were demolished late Thursday evening.

City of Winnipeg document on 38 – 44½ Albert Street