NANAIMO — The Nanoose First Nation is still coming to terms with the loss of their beloved community hall as RCMP continue their investigation into a suspicious fire.
Snaw-Naw-As chief Brent Edwards said the building, badly damaged by an early Saturday morning fire, is a write-off and will be demolished.
Edwards said the community hall was built about 40 years ago and was inherited by the current generation based on the hard work of those that came before them.
"As a community and family they got together because we didn't have any space to gather. Over the years we've been able to gather there for funerals and family get-togethers and holidays...It's been well-loved, it's something we're totally going to miss. It was a terrible weekend."
Edwards said it's believed the fire was stopped before reaching the basement of the hall, where priceless artifacts were stored. However, he said it's unclear whether they were completely spared because they haven't been able to get into the basement yet. He said while the artifacts have special meaning, the most important thing is no one was hurt in the fire.
Edwards expressed gratitude to Lantzville's volunteer fire department for keeping the blaze from spreading to nearby homes.
The community hall was insured and Edwards said there have been some early discussions about replacing it.
"We're going to start looking to the future relatively soon. People have been talking about what we will be able to do for another community space," Edwards said, adding for now they're focused on dealing with the charred remains of the building and reaching out to those affected in the community. Counsellors have been brought in to help at the Nanoose Health Care Centre.
Cst. Gary O'Brien said Nanaimo RCMP's Serious Crime Unit is leading a "very active" investigation, with help from First Nations officers.
He said while the fire is deemed suspicious, they don't yet know exactly how it started.
"We believe there may have been some young people in the area who may have some knowledge of what transpired," O'Brien said, adding they have spoken with a number of people but are not prepared to say who they've spoken with.
Lantzville Volunteer Fire Department acting chief John Marment told NanaimoNewsNOW on Sunday there were witness reports someone may have been playing with fireworks behind the building where it appeared the fire began.
"There's a number of theories. We're not prepared to get into them at this point," O'Brien said. "We're expecting tips from the public to assist in furthering the investigation very soon."
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