As March 2021 came to an end, everyone in Hay River could be thankful that it was not a repeat of March 2019.
Everyone in community at the time will never forget March 2019. It was the month of two significant fires in the community which, even two years later, are still casting metaphorical dark shadows – perhaps dark shadows from collective memories of columns of smoke.
Of course, they are the month-long blaze at the landfill site and the fire at the Mackenzie Place high-rise apartment building.
The negative effect on the high-rise is the easiest to see. The 16-storey structure stands empty, since tenants forced out of their apartments have never returned because of damage to the building and still unresolved concerns about environmental safety.
The owner has been hopeful for the past two years that Mackenzie Place would be open in short order, and he is now saying that a funding application is being considered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to help repair and reopen the building.
It would be good if that happens.
Hay River had a housing shortage before the fire at Mackenzie Place and that shortage has not gotten any better since its forced closure.
And while the owner remains optimistic that Mackenzie Place will eventually be repaired and reopened, there has to be concern that the closure has lasted two years and counting.
If the CMHC doesn’t come through with funding, the territorial government will have to seriously consider how it can become involved to get the building reopened.
As for the second major fire of March 2019, the effects of the landfill fire still linger on, although they are not as obvious as a high-rise standing empty in the heart of the community.
But the impacts of the dump fire are still serious and persistent.
They were on full display in late February when the Town of Hay River presented a resolution to the annual general meeting of the NWT Association of Communities. The resolution called for changes to the territorial government’s Disaster Assistance Policy, since the town had been rejected when it applied for help to pay for the dump fire.
Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard told delegates that Hay River is still upset with the GNWT for not supporting the municipality’s request.
Bouchard said the GNWT itself would have to directly deal with a state of emergency in the future because the territorial government “basically burnt up a credit” with the town.
“We got zero support here,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s very frustrating and very maddening, and our council is very mad.”
If that was not bad enough, Bouchard noted the cost of the dump fire totalled $938,000, and only $100,000 was covered by the town’s insurance.
So there are many lingering impacts of March 2019 – a financially-damaged town, soured relations with the GNWT, an empty high-rise, and vacant apartments that should be helping to solve the community’s housing shortage.
It’s lucky that March 2021 was not as bad as March 2019.
All we had this March was a pandemic.