Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

South Osborne fire claims second victim

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Joanne Parry, 58, the  wife of a man who died in a south Osborne house fire on Thursday, has died in hospital.

Her husband, Bert Parry, died Thursday morning after the fire in their Hethrington Avenue home.

Parry, in his 80s, died in the home where he was born. His wife Joanne died Thursday afternoon.  She had been in critical condition after the early-morning fire tore through their two-storey home.

Joanne's son Russ Parry said that she died at about 5 p.m. Thursday at Health Sciences Centre.

"Our gratitude goes to the Intensive Care Unit of the Health Sciences Centre for the care they gave to Joanne in the last few hours of her life," a statement said.

In the statement, the Parry and Kelsey families also thanked Winnipeg’s firefighters and police service for their work in trying to save Bert and Joanne.

The fire call came in at about 2:55 a.m. for the century-old wood frame house in the 500 block of Hethrington. There is a gaping hole in the roof of the house near Nassau Street, a few blocks south of the Winnipeg Transit depot in south Osborne.

"He was a grand old man. He'd lived here most of his life and I think his parents owned the house," one neighbour said. "He was the oral historian of the community."

Firefighters manned the site for five hours during intermittent freezing rain.

Traffic was snarled as the intersection remained taped off throughout much of the morning rush hour.

Neighbours said Parry lived his whole life in the home where the fire broke out, with the exception of a few years early in a first marriage when he lived on nearby Morley Avenue.

Parry's two sons watched firefighters battle the blaze from a home their father once owned across the street on Hethrington.

The neighbours said the man, a long-retired MTS worker, "was a walking history book" and spent a lot of time in a woodworking shop set up in his garage.

He remembered the days when trolleys, not pickups and SUVs, ruled the streets. He watched the neighbourhood mature through the Great Depression, the war years and the boom years of the 1950s when homes got washing machines and families traded in their clothes lines for dryers.

And he adored stray cats.

"You'd nod to him as you passed by and he'd talk to you for half an hour... just about the neighbourhood," one neighbour recalled, standing Thursday at dawn watching fire crews mop up after the fire gutted the couple's home.

Joanne Parry also worked at MTS until she retired about six years ago. She had been in failing health for the last year, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, one neighbour said.

The couple had four grown children.

Maryann Steggles, who lives with her husband, Don Steggles, across the street from the fire, said police in a passing cruiser woke them about 3 a.m.

"They were the ones who saw the smoke. The rest of us were asleep," she said.

The Steggles said the couple loved cats, travelling and spending winters in Florida.

The couple owned a converted minibus, the kind used by rural school divisions and, during a memorable MTS strike, they recalled how Parry set up the bus as a rolling lunch stand, serving strikers hot drinks and sandwiches.

The bus was visible behind the burned-out hulk of the home Thursday. Parry had used it recently as a cat house, to shelter stray felines.

"We joked we were going to put up signs with arrows pointing to the bus that said 'Bert's Buffet,' because he'd feed all the cats," said Steggles.

"He was well-known and well-loved."

The Steggles credited Parry with finding them shelter, too, after they had searched the city in vain 14 years ago for a home to rent, only to be turned away because they owned a cat.

"He asked us point blank, 'Do you own cats?' I was hesitant to say... but he would only rent the house to people who liked cats," Don Steggles said. Cats sealed the friendship between the two couples and Steggles later bought the home from Parry.

Police officers attempted to enter the burning home to search for occupants but were driven back by the intense heat and smoke.

Police estimated the value of the loss in excess of $200,000.

A cause was not yet known Thursday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 B1


Updated on Friday, November 23, 2012 at 11:18 AM CST: Updates with wife's death

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