A fire broke out Friday morning at the West Hawk Inn, seriously damaging the iconic stop in the West Hawk Lake resort area, but causing no injuries, RCMP said.
"The whole building is on fire right now," said an employee at the nearby Keystone Resort. "There was no one in the building when it started at 8 this morning and the people in the three motels beside it were evacuated."
Numerous photos put up on Twitter showed flames and smoke engulfing the inn, which drew residents and vacationers for years with its popular patio and bar. The West Hawk campground, located behind the inn, was evacuated due to the direction of the wind. One of the evacuated campers was treated for smoke inhalation and was cleared.
The fire drew dozens upon dozens of onlookers who came out of concern for the neigbourhood landmark.
"It's the end of an era," said a misty-eyed Judith Mallord, who has been a seasonal West Hawk resident for decades.
"I met my partner Richard here, my daughter worked here.
"It's just so sad that it's gone. We're lucky there was no wind, so it didn't spread."
Her daughter, Joanne, who used to work in the restaurant before it was the West Wok, said with a bar, beer vendor, restaurant and a few rooms to rent, "you were pretty well covered".
"It was nearly impossible not to have stepped foot in there," she said.
Her friend Terry Pratt said the weekend nights at the bar were legendary.
"It was a huge part of coming to the lake from the time I was in my late teens to 25 or so. I remember we'd have to leave the dinner table before we were finished to come down here to get in line," he said. "This place was packed. It was the place to be.
"This is just devastating."
Steven Dare opened the West Wok restaurant attached to the inn just four years ago. He said hundreds of loyal customers would drop by from different parts of the Whiteshell.
But that's all over now, the affable owner said.
"Gone, all gone." said Dare, sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, across the street from the smouldering remains of the inn.
"It's just very sad."
Dare was sleeping in a cabin he uses just behind the inn when a friend started pounding on his door about 7:45 a.m.
"He said, 'Get out of there, Steve, before you're barbecued in there,' " Dare said.
"I went outside and I could see smoke coming from the roof, but no flames yet. I couldn't believe it.
"Then the flames started and that's when I cried."
Dare said he has "a few other restaurants" in Winnipeg Beach, Selkirk and Ashern and likely won't rebuild in West Hawk.
"I'll probably retire early," he said. "I do this for 45 years. I build my clientele so they love my food. I love my job."
The RCMP said the cause of the fire was still to be determined and the Office of the Fire Commissioner would be assisting with the investigation.