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Fires destroy donated teepees in homeless encampment near Disraeli

A fire destroyed a teepee in a homeless tent village at the corner of Austin and Henry Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

A fire destroyed a teepee in a homeless tent village at the corner of Austin and Henry Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2020 (277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Teepees built to provide shelter and cultural support to vulnerable Winnipeggers living in encampments along the Disraeli Freeway are no longer standing after separate fires that turned the two structures into rubble.

Firefighters put out a blaze that destroyed a teepee in the middle of a tent community north of downtown near Henry Avenue and Martha Street Tuesday afternoon.

The teepee was known as Matthew’s Place. It had been gifted to the community in honour of Matthew Allan Sutherland, a 28 year old who lived in transient housing and accessed services in the area before he was killed last year.

"As a native person, watching a blessed teepee burn down is hard to watch. It’s not supposed to happen," said Darren Flett, a 49-year-old member of Peguis First Nation. Flett has slept in a makeshift tent in the area, on and off, for a year-and-a-half.

He said he left to go on a coffee run at about one o'clock.

“As a native person, watching a blessed teepee burn down is hard to watch. It’s not supposed to happen,” said Darren Flett, a 49-year-old member of Peguis First Nation. </p>

“As a native person, watching a blessed teepee burn down is hard to watch. It’s not supposed to happen,” said Darren Flett, a 49-year-old member of Peguis First Nation.

When he returned, the person who'd been designated as fire keeper was gone and the teepee was on fire. Black smoke billowed from the structure; the fire, Flett said, was massive — with flames reaching more than half the height of a nearby hydro pole.

Last week, a nearby teepee — the first of the two erected, less than 10 metres away from the one burned Tuesday — was also damaged by a fire. It has since been taken down.

Jenna Wirch, a harm-reduction and outreach worker with 13 Moons, an initiative of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, confirmed Wednesday she plans to rebuild that structure, which she she set up with a group of volunteers on Dec. 15. Wirch said she was disheartened to hear the two structures were damaged, but feels hopeful community members will help replace them.

"It's on the rest of Winnipeg to step up," she added.

Albert McLeod, co-director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba Inc., helped construct Matthew’s Place a week later. He said Wednesday there has been talk in the community about rebuilding that teepee, as well.

The teepees were installed after police dismantled two huts donated to the neighbouring encampments; city officials cited bylaw and regulation breaches.

Last week, a nearby teepee — the first of the two erected, less than 10 metres away from the one burned Tuesday — was also destroyed by fire. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Last week, a nearby teepee — the first of the two erected, less than 10 metres away from the one burned Tuesday — was also destroyed by fire. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

After the teepees were constructed, the city said it recognized the cultural importance of the structures and wouldn’t remove them.

A spokesperson previously told the Free Press that representatives from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service would visit the site to conduct community outreach and identify potential fire hazards.

City spokesman David Driedger said in a statement that no one was inside Matthew's Place Tuesday afternoon and no injuries were reported.

Driedger also said crews extinguished a small tent fire and smouldering materials in the same area on Jan. 3. Several people were injured in that incident and one person was taken to hospital in stable condition.

It is believed that a candle left burning inside the tent caused that fire.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 at 3:58 PM CST: Updated

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