Temporary grocery store to open today after Shamattawa fire, North West Company says

The North West Company says it plans to have a temporary grocery store open to the people of Shamattawa Monday after the remote First Nation’s only grocery store burned down last week.

Chief grateful for support, but says First Nation needs more help after only grocery store destroyed

Nearly everyone in Shamattawa was attending a community funeral last Thursday afternoon when a fire started in the Northern Store. (Facebook/Robert Rezhead)

The North West Company says it plans to have a temporary grocery store open to the people of Shamattawa Monday after the remote First Nation's only grocery store burned down last week.

"We want to ensure that the community members have access to those items that they need," said Derek Reimer, North West Company director of business development.

The Northern Store in Shamattawa, located about 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was destroyed in a fire Thursday. A 12-year-old boy, one of six children RCMP believe were involved in setting the blaze, was arrested and is facing charges.

Shamattawa Chief Jeffrey Napaokesik issued a state of emergency after the fire, as the community relied on the store for food, water, diapers, baby formula and other essential items.

Reimer said the company has arranged to set up a temporary grocery store in an abandoned school gym in the community. The selection will be limited to 90 different items for the time being, including evaporated milk, canned goods and produce.

Napaokesik said he is grateful for the support and donations the northern community of about 1,500 continues to receive.

An RCMP officer works to douse flames at the band office and Northern store which burned to the ground in Sept. 2016. (RCMP/Twitter)

"It's overwhelming the feeling we're getting here right now," Napaokesik said.

Donation drives have popped up all across Manitoba, including in Gillam, Thompson and Cross Lake First Nation.

Winnipeggers dropped off diapers and other high-priority items in the North End on Friday, and the Co-op store in Winkler has already sent 27 boxes of food north, according to Napaokesik.

"There is a very good reply, just to know that we're not all alone way up here in northeastern Manitoba," he said.

The Canadian Red Cross and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada have also been very helpful, Napaokesik says, as has Perimeter Airlines, which has been flying in the donations free of charge.

Staff from the Northern Store have been distributing the non-perishable donations in bags for community members to pick up at the old school gymnasium.

Craving bannock

One item people are really starting to crave is bannock.

"It's the old diet for us," Napaokesik said.

"It was asked of me so many times here in the community. We want flour and all the ingredients to make fry bread…. We're trying to put things back to normal and this is one of the things they want to see here in our community."

I just want things back to normal. The loss that we just had, it affects everyone.- Jeffrey Napaokesik

A spokesperson with the Canadian Red Cross said a shipment with bannock ingredients was scheduled to arrive over the weekend.

Napaokesik said he believes some of the shipments from Perimeter Airlines are getting jammed up in Winnipeg or Thompson and have not arrived.

"We need those donations to arrive smoothly. If they're in Thompson and Winnipeg, they're no good to our people," he said, adding he wants the airline to start sending bigger planes to accommodate the growing need for supplies.

"They're shipping this stuff free of charge, all the donations that are coming in, but … they need to do more. Ship all the stuff there that's needed here now."

Workers with the North West Company load up a plane with food and supplies headed for Shamattawa, Man., Friday afternoon. (CBC)

The Shamattawa band office was also destroyed in the fire. Napaokesik said band officials will also temporarily set up shop and work out of the abandoned building, which he says was condemned due to asbestos and mould.

There isn't any money available immediately to build a new store or band office, Napaokesik said, but he hopes that will change when insurance money comes in for the buildings lost in the fire.

"It's too bad that we lost both of our buildings, the band office, the business centre of the community and the only grocery store in Shamattawa," he said. "I just want things back to normal. The loss that we just had, it affects everyone."

An online GoFundMe campaign for Shamattawa was launched Sunday.

With files from Erin Brohman