Long, slow road back to normal after fire


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Picking up the pieces has been a tough slog for people displaced by a fire that levelled a 109-year-old building on Portage Avenue one month ago.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/03/2022 (452 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Picking up the pieces has been a tough slog for people displaced by a fire that levelled a 109-year-old building on Portage Avenue one month ago.

It took days to extinguish the fire at the two-storey Kirkwood Block, at the corner of Portage Avenue and Langside Street, after it caught fire Feb. 2. The cause of the fire hasn’t been made public.

Olasunkanmi Rabiu, an elder at the Celestial Church of Christ Redemption Parish where the fire appeared to have sparked, said losing the church space was devastating.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The destroyed store fronts of the Kirkwood Block at Portage Avenue and Langside Street. Fire ripped through the structure at the beginning of February.

“It’s been really, really difficult for everybody, even far away — people who know us through social media,” he said.

“It’s very devastating, especially when you have nowhere to go with the rest of the congregation.”

The church of about 20 people is mostly made up of students from the West African countries of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Guinea who are studying at the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba and RRC Polytech.

He said the congregation hopes to find a place to meet before Easter, which is in six weeks.

“We are looking around for places but the places we are getting, (rent is) three times the price,” he said.

Since the fire, members have met over Zoom.

Julie Lola Omoniyi, who owns a shop next to the burnt-down building, was only able to reopen Lola’s Beauty Gallery and Supplies this week.

“It’s been like hell for me,” she said.

“I’ve been closed down for a month. I couldn’t have my customers, I couldn’t work.”

She has only been able to open the salon because contractors are still addressing smoke damage to the sales side of the Portage Avenue store.

“Where we sell hair extensions and wigs and hair products, that side is not open yet. The restoration company has plugged in heaters so the pipes won’t freeze. We don’t want people walking around the heaters,” Omoniyi said.

On top of that, she had a break-in over the weekend, in which thieves filled up bags with beauty products.

“Everything is just not right in the city, I want this city back to normal,” she said.

The offices of the West End Business Improvement Zone were lost in the blaze.

Sargent Avenue business X-Cues Cafe & Lounge stepped up to help, along with other area merchants.

“For the most part, our jobs are just out in the neighbourhood and they need a base of operations, a place to start the work day, for graffiti we need a place to store paint, we need a place to change into uniforms,” executive director Joe Kornelson said. “(At) X-Cues, we can go there to do some computer work and just stay in the neighbourhood.”

He said the organization is close to finding a short-term lease while the search for a permenant location continues.

“Being in the place is really critical to what we do.”


Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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