Blaze at memorial centre in Prince Albert devastating for community, grand council says

Prince Albert fire crews were fighting a fire at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre Friday morning.

No injuries reported in Friday morning blaze

Emergency services tackle a fire at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre in Prince Albert on Friday morning. (Ken Landers)

A community centre in Prince Albert struck by a fire early Friday morning is likely a total loss, a devastating blow to the city. 

Prince Albert police and firefighters, including a fire engine, ladder truck and about eight to 11 personnel were dispatched to the 2300 block of 9th Avenue West at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday.

Prince Albert fire Chief Kris Olsen said the building's construction made difficult work for firefighters.

The building has a metal exterior but a wood interior, meaning the firefighters had to saw through some of the metal to access to the fire, all while the wood interior fuelled its ferocity. Eventually, the building's roof collapsed. 

Firefighters strip metal siding from the structure to get to the fire inside the building. (Ken Landers)

"It's basically worst-case scenario when the fire gets into the structure," Olsen said. "Exposing it is the only way to get that fire."

Grand council devastated by fire destruction

In a news release, the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) said it's "shocked" and "devastated" by the fire that destroyed their centre, which was named after the late Senator Allen Bird, a decorated war veteran and elder from Montreal Lake Cree Nation.

"It had the reputation as the main gathering place for many of our community events," Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said in the release.

"It has also represented the home of our government for our 12 member Nations, and it has been a site where we have honoured many of our leaders over the years."

Seeing it levelled on Friday, the day after it was the site where about 1,500 Easter hampers were distributed to needy families, was a tragic irony for PAGC vice-chief Joseph Tsannie.

"It's a centre for our young people, our youth, to come for training opportunities, tournaments … it's the young people that are impacted the most because, like I said, that is their home," he said.

Tsannie says it was also a building where people gathered to mourn loss in the community and to celebrate with festivals and dances.

"Buildings and materials can always be replaced, but it is a symbol of PAGC and I know within our First Nations, our members are feeling the impact and feel a sadness because that was our home. 

While the building didn't survive, Tsannie nevertheless thanked the emergency services personnel and the PAGC members who came to help battle the fire.