Fire destroyed a corner of downtown, but the community there is indomitable.
The Jean Burns Building at Commercial Street and Victoria Crescent was gutted last week in Nanaimo’s most destructive fire in recent memory. Firefighters worked all night long, contained the blaze and saved the day, even if the building could not be saved.
Before the smoke had cleared, there were already indications that a neighbourhood would come together as a community. The Vault Café across the street from the fire stayed open all night for firefighters and other first responders and for any impacted by the fire. Thrifty Foods and other businesses offered food and drinks. People gathered downtown not to gawk at the calamity, but to show solidarity.
By the next morning, the Vault was already collecting donations for fire victims and the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association was quick to take on a co-ordinating role in fundraising and relief efforts. We hope people will help, and support affected businesses when they re-open, as we hope they will.
We cannot replace what was lost. The building itself was intrinsic with our image of downtown Nanaimo, and we won’t know all that was burned inside. We know that there were artists’ workshops there and gallery space, and when pieces of art are wrecked, it’s an incalculable loss, and Nanaimo is a little less beautiful. Many other things were lost, too, of no lesser value. The fire invaded and ravaged personal spaces, and there will be memories and stories about life and times there, but people didn’t get to say goodbye on their own terms; the fire saw to that.
Last week’s fire means that Nanaimo’s downtown will be rebuilt. Maybe with concrete and glass, maybe in some way we can’t foresee.
Fire reminds us of what is fragile, but surviving it can show, too, that we are strong.