'Strength' of Tignish helps Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry come to terms with loss of childhood home

Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry and others from Tignish are coming to grips with the loss of Eugene's General Store, a landmark in the community since the 1940s.

New owners of Eugene's General Store say they will reopen as soon as possible

Construction crews work on Eugene's General Store in Tignish on Monday following Sunday's fire. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry was at church in Tignish on Sunday when she heard the devastating news — her childhood home, the building that was also Eugene's General Store, was on fire.

"I rushed to my sister's apartment and we walked over and yeah, I saw it all in flames," she said. "A lot of memories there, a lot of memories, for sure."

Perry and other members of the community are coming to grips with the loss of the store, which was built in 1939.

Perry's parents took over the grocery store in 1948, and raised her and her eight siblings in the upstairs residence of the building.

It had been in the Perry family for decades, save for a period from 1976-86, before new owners, Joey Morrissey and his son Carter, took it over less than two years ago. 

It was the heart of the community.— Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry

Sunday's fire happened on what would have been Eugene and Anne Marie Perry's 78th wedding anniversary, the lieutenant-governor said.

"My parents were very community minded. And just even watching them help people who were down on their luck and you know sometimes they'd go out with a bag of groceries and you knew that there was no money exchanged there," she said.

"And it's that whole community spirit. We were brought up in that."

Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry and her eight siblings were raised in the residence above Eugene's General Store, which her parents took over in 1948. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

She remembers helping her parents around the store, filling up Christmas and Easter baskets on Sundays when the store was closed.

"It was the heart of the community. I mean, you could sense the pulse of the community just walking in there and if there was something you needed to find out, well you probably found it out there, you know."

Eugene's was a popular gathering spot for people in the community. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Perry said the store has remained a vital part of the community under the new owners. She said they offered condolences to each other after the fire.

"Joey Morrissey, like he told me, he said, you know, Antoinette, he says, we can rebuild this but he said you, your memories are all gone up in smoke. But I said they're etched in my heart though, too, you know, they really are. You don't forget those memories too soon for sure."

'Gathering spot for seniors'

Carter Morrissey confirmed to CBC that he does plan to rebuild and reopen the store as soon as possible.

That is welcome news to Mayor Allan McInnis, who said Eugene's was a landmark in the city.

It just brought tears to my eyes.— Carol Ann Gallant

"This place was a gathering spot for a lot of seniors that used to drop in there and have a coffee and a sandwich and a piece of cheese," he said.

"Most of the people of Tignish at least made one trip into Eugene's General Store once a day."

Carol Ann Gallant says she is thankful nobody was injured. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

One of those people was Carol Ann Gallant. She said she's known Carter since he was a kid and her heart goes out to him.

"I cried like a fool," she said. "It just brought tears to my eyes and I hope it'll all work out for him. 

"Nobody got hurt, that's the main thing. A building can be replaced. A life can't."

The drive-thru was not damaged and is still in operation. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Two people who lived upstairs in the building — a brother and sister — were forced out of their home. A separate office building and drive-thru window at the back of the lot is undamaged and still in operation.

Fire inspectors were on scene Monday trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Firefighters spent hours battling the blaze on Sunday afternoon. (Kyle McCallum)

Perry, who as lieutenant-governor lives in Charlottetown but returns to Tignish at least once a month, said while the destruction of the store is a huge loss, she has faith in the "strength" of her community.

"There is a power in that community. That's the community where I was raised. And there is so much positive," she said.

"People are so generous. I know the whole community will be behind the new owners 100 per cent. There's no question."

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With files from Angela Walker and Brian Higgins