'Devastating to the community': Gillam fire leaves town without recreation centre

People in the northern Manitoba town of Gillam are sorting out what they will do now that their local recreation centre has gone up in flames, leaving the community without a library or hockey and curling facilities.

'We're not anywhere in a location where we can drive 20 miles down the road to use someone else's rink': CAO

The Gillam Recreation Centre was gutted by a fire on Dec. 6. (Submitted by Jackie Clayton)

People in the northern Manitoba community of Gillam are in shock after a massive fire raged through their community centre Wednesday.

The fire started around 4:30 p.m. in the building, which was under renovation, and forced the evacuation of several homes.

No one was inside the centre when it caught fire, and no one was hurt in the blaze, said Jackie Clayton, Gillam's CAO.

The office of the fire commissioner will investigate the cause, but as of Thursday morning an investigator had yet to arrive in the community, 737 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"We don't believe it is at all arson. There was people on the work site at the time so it could be related to the construction but like I said, we don't know," said Clayton.
The recreation centre had been under renovation since the spring. (Submitted by Nicole Simpson)

This past spring, all the books from the library and the ice from the arena had been removed prior to the major renovation, which saw parts of the building taken back to the studs.

"It was basically a shell — parts of the building had been removed. So we were hoping to maybe be able to get into the ice area this year to use it for the winter so that we could have some skating and curling, but that's not going to happen now," Clayton said.

The renovation of the centre was supposed to be complete in 2018, but given the extent of the damage it may be 2019 or 2020 before it is able to open, she said.

"It's pretty devastating to the community. We're not anywhere in a location where we can drive 20 miles down the road to use someone else's rink or somebody else's building. We're going to have to get extremely creative on what we can do with our outdoor space now for people both in the winter and the summer," Clayton said.
The recreation centre was supposed to reopen in the spring after renovations, but the fire may mean the community will be without it until 2019 or 2020. (Submitted by Nicole Simpson)

"It's still kind of sinking in to everybody, there was a lot of hope to be able to have the rink open this year and now that's totally been decided for us. That's not going to happen. So I'm sure they're sitting and thinking, 'What can we do and how can we all band together so that we can still have some recreational activities for the people that live here?'" Clayton said.

"We're sitting in limbo. We're just trying to figure out what our next steps are going to be." 


Meaghan Ketcheson has been a reporter in Winnipeg for more than 25 years. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter at @CBCMeaghanK.