St. Albert looks to rebuild after cheese factory fire

People in the small community of St. Albert, Ont., say they will work to rebuild the St. Albert cheese co-operative after a raging fire Sunday destroyed much of the factory.

Factory manager says he hopes cheese co-operative is running in 8 to 12 months

A small town southeast of Ottawa looks to rebuild after a major fromagerie fire. 2:44

People in the small community of St. Albert, Ont., say they will work to rebuild the St. Albert cheese co-operative, after a raging fire Sunday destroyed much of the factory.

A landmark in the tiny community of 500 about 45 minutes east of Ottawa, the factory had been a major employer in the region since its founding in 1894.

On Sunday morning a fire broke out, forcing workers to flee. It quickly spread through the older of two buildings, and at its height smoke was visible from 15 kilometres away.

Nine fire departments from communities in the surrounding area worked to control the blaze.

Investigators remain at scene

There were no reported injuries. The cause of the fire is not known yet.

Investigators expected to remain on scene for several days.

Many of the people watching the fire were in tears as they watched the fire spread on Sunday afternoon.

The St. Albert's fromagerie, known for its distinctive cheese curds, is one of the oldest Francophone co-operatives in Ontario, and employed about 110 people in the small community.

"It's the backbone of the town, so we'll have to see what's happening in the future," said Andre Lavergne, whose grandfather was one of the founders of the co-op.

'We're going to rebuild'

Rejean Ouimet, the co-operative's general manager, said the co-op is aiming to rebuild the plant by September, though he said it could take as long as December.

"We were so proud about this place. Everybody was proud, not only me. Everyone around this eastern part of Ontario. We're known across Canada. I'm sure we're going to rebuild. I'm sure," said Ouimet.

But Ouimet said new product would be on the shelves in a few weeks. The co-operative also has a production plant in Mirabel, Que., and Ouimet said arrangements could be made with other local cheese producers.

Francois St-Amour, the mayor of Nation Township, which includes St. Albert, said residents displaced by the fire returned to their homes after spending the night at a community centre.

François St-Amour, mayor of the township that includes St. Albert, Ont., said he believes the community will bounce back from the devastating factory fire. (CBC)

In a news conference Monday, St-Amour also said some families had five generations work at the cheese factory, but he was glad to hear the factory planned to rebuild.

"It's devastating," he said. "It's a big impact but they're very hearty people. They'll get back on their feet."

The warden for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell also said in a statement Sunday everyone in the community looks forward to rebuilding what he called "a cornerstone of the local economy."

"We shall certainly look into how we can help in this matter. Rest assured that the UCPR will do everything in its power to put its shoulder to the wheel and help the company get back on its feet," said René Berthiaume.