Montague Mayor Richard Collins choked back tears Thursday, vowing to rebuild as soon as possible after a blaze all but destroyed the town hall.
The Montague Fire Department, which is located next to the town hall, responded to the fire at 4:35 a.m. Thursday and arrived to find the roof of the 31-year-old building completely engulfed.
“I am shocked and stunned,’’ Collins said, his voice breaking with emotion. “When I left the building (Wednesday) evening at 4 o’clock, I didn’t think I would not be going back in. We did have a meeting of seven individuals in the boardroom last night from 6-10 p.m. and I drove by about a quarter to 10 and everything was very normal at that time.
“I’m sad. I was on the building committee with two former councillors back when the building was planned and built. It’s sad, and there’s a lot of history there. We’re 101 years old (as a town), and the building was 31 years old. My heart is deeply saddened today that we’re suffering this great loss.’’
No cause has been determined yet. The investigation is continuing.
Even as he surveyed the destruction, Collins was quick to react when asked what the town’s plans for a town building were going forward.
“We’re going to rebuild, ASAP,’’ the mayor said adamantly. “We’re going to be forming a building committee within the next couple of hours and we’re going to be building a new, modern, larger building. This building was actually small for our use. There wasn’t enough offices in it and so on. The (council) chamber was small. We’re going to move forward in a bigger and better way.’’
It’s obviously a bit early to go into specifics about the rebuild, but Collins said it might happen on the same site.
“It’s a good possibility that it would be the same site. The building may be moved towards the Queens Road closer and give us more parking in the back and a big area for extension. Those will be council decisions, not so much the mayor’s decision.’’
Firefighters were on the scene within minutes of the initial alarm and, although the roof structure was completely destroyed, the main part of the building remains intact. Once the fire was out, firefighters were able to remove most of the town’s computers, filing cabinets and historic pictures, making the process of moving forward a bit easier.
“That means a lot because that means we can begin functioning again, perhaps within a couple of days.’’
Coun. Jim Bagnall couldn't believe it when he woke up to the news Thursday morning.
“I think we’re going to have to get working immediately on trying to put a new structure in place, but it’s utter shock (at this point),’’ Bagnall said.
Coun. Wayne Spin said he found out about the fire when he logged onto Facebook.
“It’s definitely devastating that we lose such a beautiful building and our place of work, but thank God nobody got hurt,’’ Spin said.
The town immediately sprung into action as word spread about the fire. Tim Hortons and other area businesses sent over food and beverages for the firefighters who had been up all night, having responded to a call at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday.
The town also had at least five offers of space for the town to use to conduct business.
“The outpouring of offers for help and food . . . was just overwhelming,’’ said Coun. Debbie Johnston. “It’s great to see the community pull together, but it’s a big loss for Montague.’’
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This video was posted by a witness on Facebook.