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New West Fire: Kick in the teeth to Downtown
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy is passionate about New Westminster’s heritage but it was the last thing on his mind when he arrived last Thursday at 5 a.m. to watch a Downtown iconic building engulfed in an inferno.
McEvoy got wind of what was happening when he woke up to go to work and opened his Twitter account and saw the news.
He rushed right down.
Although McEvoy is chair of the city’s heritage commission, the fiery flames and the billowing smoke had him worrying about the firefighters or for anyone caught inside.
“I’ll take losing a building over human lives any day,” said McEvoy.
“Right now the owners need moral support. There’s no loss of life, but there’s a human toll.”
Knowing no one was injured, McEvoy was able to turn his attention to the future of this particular piece of New Westminster’s past.
The E.L. Lewis building at 634 Columbia at McKenzie Street was erected in 1904, joining three others on the same block built in 1899 as the city recovered from the Great Fire of 1898.
The facade of Copp’s New West Shoes, which opened in 1925, made it an iconic corner on Downtown’s Golden Mile.
“It’s a big loss heritage wise,” said McEvoy.
Copp’s featured wooden floors and racks and racks of shoes along the walls from floor to the 18-foot high ceiling that could be accessed by wooden ladders on tracks.
Owner Terry Brine, grandson of the store’s founder J.P. Copp, retired and closed the business on Jan. 1 and a bridal shop opened in its place. He co-owned the building with Bill Lewis.
“It’s a piece of New West history,” said Brine. “Downtown New West was looking so good, it’s a kick in the teeth because the Downtown was coming on strong.”
Brine added they’ll probably rebuild, but “you can’t replace history.”
The city, however, will help them try. Mayor Wayne Wright said “that corner is one of the most important corners of the city” and replacing the buildings is “going to be a challenge.”
City manager Lisa Spitale was sombre as she watched smoke billowing from the building.
“It always affects us,” said Spitale.
“It’s a fire in a historic building so you’ve got to regroup. We still have to work with the property owners with reconstruction. People love this street. It breaks your heart watching this.”
Spitale hopes it won’t be a case of the property remaining vacant for a long time before someone comes forward with reconstruction plans.
“The city is here to help them. The community values this street and I would hope they would help us with reconstruction,” she said.
McEvoy was worried many other nearby historical buildings will have suffered water damage.
“We’ll be looking at seeing any fire issues we need to look at for the rest of the district,” said McEvoy. “That will be a big heritage concern.”
McEvoy said the blaze managed to jump a firewall in the building, as at least 10 tenants lost their offices or stores.
“I don’t know why that happened. I’m concerned why it went down so quickly,” said McEvoy. “I’m not making any assumptions”
McEvoy said the blaze will be an incentive to look at fire safety in heritage buildings more closely.
“That’s a particular interest to me that I can do something about.”