Nfld. & Labrador

Happy Valley-Goose Bay races to buy food after fire damages NorthMart grocery store

The Terrington Co-op is the only major grocery store still open in town after a fire significantly damaged the NorthMart store in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Terrington Co-op vice-president Bob Shiwak said food was flying off the shelves

The fire at NorthMart leaves many people with uncertain employment. (Valerie Pardy-Rachwa)

By the time Bob Shiwak, vice-president of the Terrington Co-op grocery store in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, arrived at the store Saturday morning, it was already packed.

"A guy's just going by, he's got eight chickens in his basket," he told CBC News from the store Saturday morning.

The Terrington Co-op is the only major grocery store still open in town, after the other one, NorthMart, was significantly damaged by a fire in the early morning hours on Saturday.

It's not known what started the fire at NorthMart in Happy Valley-Goose Bay overnight. (Rhona Rea)

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay fire department got the call around 2:25 a.m., according to the town's fire department chief Brad Butler.

His crew managed to contain the fire to one half of the building, he said, but they had to knock out the front of the store to gain access.

Butler added that there is extensive smoke and water damage to the building and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be investigating the cause of the fire. 

The crew was on site until late Saturday morning. Nobody was hurt.

'It's a disaster'

The fire is a "huge blow" to the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and surrounding communities like Mud Lake and Sheshatshiu, said Shiwak, noting that a lot of people come in from those neighbouring towns to do their shopping.

"Having two of these stores is a big plus for the people living here. When they lose one, it's a disaster," he said.

As he spoke to CBC News from inside the Terrington Co-op, he said food, especially meat, was flying off the shelves.

"They can't put it on the shelves fast enough," he said. 

Though he is expecting another grocery truck in the next few days — "Maybe even tomorrow," he said — he believes the store is going to run out of things if the pace of shopping in the wake of the fire keeps up.

Jobs uncertain for many

The extent of the damage to NorthMart is uncertain at this point, said Derek Reimer, the director of business development for the North West Company, which owns the store.

Reimer said 85 people work at NorthMart and the company's smaller C-Store convenience store, but that the vast majority of those people work at NorthMart.

Getting those people back to work is a top priority, he said. 

"We want to get services up and running as soon as we can."

Fire has significantly damaged NorthMart in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Submitted )

The North West Company will likely see if a temporary store at a different location is possible, he said, but it's still too soon to make a definite plan.

They operate 130 stores across the Canadian north and when fires happen, Reimer said the company works hard to get the stores back up and running.

"It escalates to be the most important thing in our company when this happens," he said. 

With files from Lisa Gushue 

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