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'Millions of awesome memories' at Wellington Crescent mansion destroyed by fire

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Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press

A fire fighter surveys the aftermath in the back yard of 1021 Wellington Crescent Monday.

For Jason Halter, the sprawling historic mansion at 1021 Wellington Crescent is so much more than just place he called home for a quarter-century.

It was also the real estate for his childhood years and what he says were "millions of awesome memories."

Halter, now a Toronto-based architect and designer, contacted the Free Press Sunday after learning a major fire had torn through the place he once fondly called home.

"Our house was always filled with laughter and music as long as I remember it," he said. "And those memories persist despite the super sad devastation that this fire has brought to the old home."

The home had been owned by the Dornetshuber family since 2009.

"Our house was always filled with laughter and music as long as I remember it."

-Former resident Jason Halter

"We're very much shaken right now," businessman Karl Dornetshuber said in a brief telephone interview Sunday from Edmonton, where he, his wife and children were this weekend for a trip.

"There might be nothing left," Dornetshuber said.

The family moved into the home in 2009 — it was a "dream house" for them, he agreed. Dornetshuber added he'd been in contact with Winnipeg police Sunday morning and was attempting to return to Winnipeg immediately.

Dornetshuber said he was "very relieved" no one appeared to be hurt. The family immigrated to Canada from Austria in 2009, according to neighbours.

Officials haven't released what they think was the cause of the stubborn blaze.

"Lost their treasure"

Halter lived there with his family between 1966 to 1991 — long before its current owners plucked it off the market.

"Tons of friends who I grew up with played in the yard, partied in the basement and swam in the pool," said Halter. The basement, he remembered, was "pretty amazing" as a place to hang out.

His arts-loving parents, Aubrey and Nola, often hosted talented classical musicians who'd fill the house with their gift, he said.

"I recall hearing Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Horowitz, David Oistrakh and Vladamir Ashkenazy," Halter said.  "As a young kid I knew something quite special was going on, often hearing the music from my bedroom door."

The musical attachments 1021 Wellington held for him didn't break after his family moved out.

He wound up back inside its walls in 2005, when the Asper family hosted what Halter called "an epic party" during the Juno Awards in Winnipeg. Halter's design studio designed  T-shirts given to performers and participants at the awards.

Arriving at the party, he looked around his old home to see none other than Randy Bachman of Guess Who fame sporting one of his company's T-shirts. That coincidence led to a funny introduction and "brief but fun" design collaboration, Halter said.

"'Randy, it's a huge honour to meet you, and especially wonderful because you're in my dining room and you're wearing one of my shirts,'" Halter recalled saying.

He said his heart goes out to the family who now has to deal with the aftermath of the destructive fire.

"So sorry for the family who have lost their treasure," Halter said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 4:32 PM CST: typos corrected

4:55 PM: Photo changed

February 17, 2014 at 11:05 AM: Adds slideshow, tidies text.

11:44 AM: Adds more pictures to slideshow; video.

2:43 PM: Corrects name of musician.

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