Manitoba

'The loss is so profound:' Winnipeggers rally after fire devours artists' warehouse

Hope is rising from the ashes and rubble of an inferno that consumed the livelihoods of more than two dozen Winnipeg artists, musicians and craftspeople on Monday.

Loss of artwork, collections, archival material, supplies and tools is devastating, GoFundMe campaign says

Twisted steel and other rubble is all that is left in the smouldering scene following Monday's fire. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Hope is rising from the ashes and rubble of an inferno that consumed the livelihoods of more than two dozen Winnipeg artists, musicians and craftspeople on Monday.

A pair of GoFundMe campaigns were launched within hours of the early morning destruction of the former mattress factory at 274 Jarvis Ave. that had become artists' studios and band rehearsal space.

"Thankfully no lives were lost. However, the loss — of artwork, collections, archival material, supplies and tools — for all the affected artists is devastating, for their practices, their livelihoods, and for Canadian art," states the fundraising page, "274 Jarvis Ave – Artist Relief."

The campaign, which called the "catastrophic fire" a major blow to the arts community, is organized by Border Crossings magazine in partnership with the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art.

The three-storey building was consumed in Monday's blaze, leaving nothing but a few walls that are set to be torn down. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

It had raised $24,000 of its $100,000 goal by early Tuesday morning — less than 24 hours after the flames had been extinguished.

By mid-morning, with the total hitting $32,000, the goal was adjusted to $250,000.

Border Crossings editor Meeka Walsh said the money will go directly to the artists to help them re-establish their studios and practices, and provide general financial support. A committee has been created to distribute the money as soon as possible.

"The need is immediate," Walsh said. "The loss is so profound and the implications of the loss, to the individual artists, is so overwhelming as to be almost unspeakable."

Meeka Walsh says no amount of fundraising can compensate for the losses many of the artists suffered "but it’s at least a place to start." (Submitted by Meeka Walsh)

The fire claimed finished works and those in progress but also records and archives, kept in sketchbooks and journals, of work created through the decades — bodies of work that should have been left as legacies.

"Artists have lost their entire history, their memories. It's as though your memory has been erased, for the senior artists who had all of their work there," said Walsh.

The loss is so profound and the implications of the loss, to the individual artists, is so overwhelming as to be almost unspeakable.- Meeka Walsh

A Border Crossings board member first suggested the fundraising campaign and "it didn't take any of us more than a heartbeat to say, 'yes, of course. This is what we have to do,'" Walsh said.

The magazine's board then approached the art galleries to join the effort, she said, adding the money will help buy new equipment, tools, supplies, and whatever else to help restore some semblance of that ruptured livelihood.

"When people can catch their breath and make an assessment, they'll start to express to the committee what their needs are," Walsh said.

"Nothing will be complete compensation, but it's at least a place to start."

Support for musicians

The other GoFundMe page, "Warehouse Fire Threatens Musician Livelihood" is aimed at helping the bands — El Diablo, Witchtrip, Dreadnaut, Long Term Enemy, and others — who lost instruments and other gear.

Fire consumed a warehouse on Jarvis Avenue in Winnipeg's North End on Monday. (City of Winnipeg)

Other fundraising events are also being planned for the musicians, according to the page, which had raised close to $2,000 of its $75,000 goal as of Tuesday morning.

"While some of the musicians had insurance, it's not nearly enough to cover their losses, and some use the gear that was inside to make a living," the GoFundMe page states.

An image of the building from Google Street View in 2018. (Google Street View)

"Hopefully we can help these fine folks recover some of their losses and continue to share their music with their dedicated fans in Winnipeg, across Manitoba, and throughout Canada."

Trish Roche, the creator of the page, said she did it on behalf of her partner Rob Burton, one of the musicians who suffered a big loss, as well as the many others.

"I know this is an emotional time and everyone is in shock but wanted to ensure those who want to support these guys are able to," she wrote.

Emergency crews rushed to the North End warehouse just before 1 a.m. Monday. The fire was so intense, it lit up the neighbourhood during the dark hours before sunrise.

Before long, the walls began to collapse as the heat and flames devoured the building, which occupied the length of an entire city block.

The shell of the warehouse on Tuesday morning looked like the ruins of a bombing. (Warren Kay/CBC)

It took many hours to reduce the fire to just a few hotspots that continued to flare up throughout the day as firefighters worked to snuff them out.

When it was over, nothing remained of the building or its contents, save for a few jagged brick walls that will be knocked down by demolition crews on Tuesday.

The cause of the blaze will take a long time to determine, if investigators are able to figure it out, fire officials said on Monday.

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About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

With files from Laura Glowacki

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