New Brunswick

Acadian Peninsula family takes in Mexican fish-plant workers after fire

The manager of a fish plant in Grande-Anse, N.B., says Mexican workers who were boarding at her brother’s house have become like family, so it’s perhaps no surprise that their parents have taken many of them into their home in the wake of a devastating fire.

Victims received counselling and are doing well, says fish plant manager

Blackened beams inside a shell of white siding. A charred van is in the foreground.
This is what's left of the house in Saint-Leolin where the foreign workers at a Grande-Anse fish plant were staying. (Radio-Canada)

The manager of a fish plant in Grande-Anse says Mexican workers who were boarding at her brother's house have become like family, so it's perhaps no surprise that their parents have taken many of them into their home in the wake of a devastating fire.

"I'm happy everyone's good and happy now and safe and sound," said Mélanie Duguay.

"I think the shock is almost over."

People in the community were quick to pitch in after the fire Friday, said Duguay. It destroyed a 2½-storey house on Saint-Joseph Boulevard in the Saint-Léolin area of the newly merged municipality of Rivière-du-Nord. 

The house had eight rooms and was constructed for rental accommodations, said Duguay. 

WATCH | Tenant describes waking up to fire:

Fire leaves 15 temporary workers homeless in Grand-Anse, N.B.

4 months ago
Duration 0:43
A tenant describes a fire that destroyed the apartment complex where she lived.

Her brother, Carl Bertin, began renting it out to temporary foreign workers from Pêcheries LeBreton et Fils last year, she said. Fifteen people arrived for the new season on May 1.

Duguay said she got a call about the fire at about 6:15 a.m. Friday.

A middle aged woman with short auburn hair gives an interview in front of a home with vinyl and stone siding.
Mélanie Duguay, fish plant manager, says many people worked together to get the displaced workers housed and taken care of after the fire. (Radio-Canada)

Lidia Alejandro Aguirre Gonzalez said when she opened her eyes her room was smoky. She told her roommate to open the window because of the heat. And flames were in the window.

Tenants had to flee the building in pyjamas and bare feet, wrapped in blankets. 

By 7 a.m. everyone was safe and sound, said Duguay, and without any prompting, people had started dropping off food and clothing. 

By 8 p.m. Friday, everyone was fed, clothed and had new places to stay, she said.

"People were so generous and we really appreciate it."

A group of 14 people pose for a picture in front of a pick up truck and a brown house.
Temporary workers from Mexico and members of the Bertin family in Saint-Leolin. (Radio-Canada)

The donations kept coming in the next day, she said, along with gift cards, counselling and other support services and emergency supplies.

A social worker came to debrief the foreign workers.

"We know that it's hard for them," said Duguay. 

"Adaptation is not easy. We wanted to make sure they had all the support they could have."

Duguay said the fire victims seem to be doing well. They're back to work and seem to be in good spirits.

A series of attached white buildings on the waterside.
This is the Lebreton et Fils fish plant that employs the workers affected by the fire. (Radio-Canada)

Ten of them are staying with her parents. They had five available bedrooms, she said.

The fish plant company was helpful too, she said, building new beds and getting new mattresses and providing vans for transportation.

Three sets of bunk beds were needed, said Duguay. Two carpenters among the Mexican workers also helped with the construction.

Three of the foreign workers are staying in another house and two are in a third house, both owned by the fish plant company. All of the houses are in close proximity, she said.

There were rooms available in the company houses, but the workers had preferred to stay altogether as a group in Bertin's larger house when it was available.

A few of them were there for their second season, but most were new arrivals, she said. The group is made up of men and women who appear to range in age from their twenties to forties.

They're all from the Nayarit and Tepic areas of Mexico.

Her brother wasn't at the house at the time of the fire, said Duguay, but he is taking it hard.

"Last year was his first year of renting and he got really close to the Mexicans," Duguay said. "They're his close friends."

Her brother and father built something out of wood for making tortillas, she said. They showed the newcomers around the area, provided them with bicycles and gave them tastes of Canadian food.

"He would just do little things so that they'd get comfortable and to like the place," she said.

Bertin went to Mexico last winter to visit the workers, said Duguay.

"So he could see what kind of life they had. He wanted them to be so comfortable."

She hopes they'll be fine in their new accommodations until the end of the season.

The Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of the fire.


Jennifer Sweet has been telling the stories of New Brunswickers for over 20 years. She is originally from Bathurst, got her journalism degree from Carleton University and is based in Fredericton. She can be reached at 451-4176 or

With files from Radio-Canada

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