My perspective - It could have been better


By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

The Neepawa Banner

Last week was an eventful week here in Neepawa, and not the good kind of eventful.  On Wednesday night, a fire levelled the Neepawa Home Hardware building, taking with it one of the town’s major retailers, the homes of eight people and the jobs of 13 people. Our friends and neighbours woke up Thursday morning without a home and without a job.

Despite the complete loss of the Home Hardware building, fire fighters were able to save the neighbouring businesses. The building on the other side don’t appear to have suffered any ill effects from the destructive blaze in their midst. On Thursday, the fire was still smouldering and that block of Mountain Ave. was closed to traffic, but the destruction was limited to the one building.

It could have been better, it could have been worse.

The eight people who lived in the four apartments above the building lost everything in the fire. Most left with just the clothes on their backs.  Irreplaceable photos and mementos were lost. Not only do they have to find new homes, but they also have to fill those homes with new housewares, furniture and clothing, replacing what was destroyed.

Our fire was the second major fire that day in the province. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a fire destroyed a farm house near Kane, in the southern part of the province. That fire broke out while most of the family was asleep. While three of the children were sleeping on the lower floor and were saved, the four boys sleeping upstairs couldn’t be reached.  Both parents were hospitalized for smoke inhalation trying to reach the boys after the second floor was engulfed by the flames.

In Neepawa, no one was hurt, no one was even injured. It could have been better, it could have been worse.

In Neepawa, the loss of the Home Hardware store will leave a big hole in the town’s landscape, in every sense.  The store carried a wide range of products and gave shoppers another option, another reason, to shop at home. Hopefully other local merchants and Home Hardware stores in other communities can meet the needs of the store’s former shoppers. 

But every lost local store makes it more likely shoppers will bypass shopping locally, assuming they can’t get what they want.  Every dollar spent locally gets recycled into wages and support for local initiatives. Without Home Hardware, some portion of this money will leave the community.

The loss of the store will also leave a physical mark on the community. In 2004, a fire destroyed the 100 year old Hamilton Hotel. The spot stood vacant for about three years until The Bargain Shop building was built on the site. At this point, the plans for reconstruction of Home Hardware aren’t known.  For those of us wanting to see a vibrant, bustling downtown, a vacant lot in the middle of the retail core isn’t a good sight.

We were lucky, the fire broke out on a site served by three hydrants and in a building that had a relatively large buffer around it: parking lot to the north, a back lane to the west and a garden centre to the south. The new garden centre was very quickly cleared to create a fire break.  Few downtown retail buildings are as disconnected from their neighbours as the Home Hardware store was. 

It could have been better, it could have been worse.

The fire did give us a chance to see the compassion, thoughtfulness and supportiveness of the town’s residents.  Even as the building was burning, friends and strangers mobilized to get the tenants anything they might need.  On Thursday morning, the Salvation Army opened its doors to donations of items.  By Friday they had found a way to be able to accept cash donations for those displaced. A social has been planned and volunteers have stepped up in great numbers. People have opened their hears and their wallets.

Last week, we saw what our town was made of.  In this respect, it could have been worse, it couldn’t have been better.