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Historical church building in Nanaimo heavily damaged by fire

Unity Vancouver Island building in East Wellington dates back to late 1800s
The Unity Vancouver Island building in East Wellington near Nanaimo was heavily damaged in an overnight fire. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

An historical building in the East Wellington community near Nanaimo is partially in ruins following an overnight fire.

The Unity Vancouver Island church building on East Wellington Road suffered heavy damage after a blaze broke out in the main hall of the 131-year-old structure Monday, Aug. 15.

Capt. Darcy Morgan with East Wellington Fire Department said there was heavy smoke and flames showing from the side of the building when he arrived on the scene shortly before 11:30 p.m.

“We started an exterior attack and then got a little more aggressive with it, but it was a little too warm inside, so we pulled out and [Lantzville Fire Rescue], our automatic aid partner, showed up and helped out,” he said.

As East Wellington does not have fire hydrants, Lantzville Fire Rescue relayed water to the fire scene and also added, Morgan estimated, up to 10 firefighters to help the 16 East Wellington firefighters on scene.

“About an hour into it we realized we were going to need more manpower so they actually sent a second engine,” Morgan said.

Firefighters were on the scene until about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Morgan said no one was injured in the fire, but one firefighter was sent to hospital as a precaution – the reason was not explained – and released later in the morning.

The fire captain said the cause of the blaze is under investigation, but seems to have started in the main hall and does not appear to be suspicious in nature. The heaviest fire damage to the structure is in the main hall and to the roof above it, but there is heat, fire, smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the building. Morgan said whether the building can be salvaged will be up to the insurance company.

“It was pretty heavily damaged,” he said. “The building was built years and years and years ago, so it was real heavy timbers and … I attribute that to why it’s still standing now.”

Several groups operated out of the building, including a church and daycare. Morgan said he believes the building originally belonged to former coal mine developer, industrialist and politician Robert Dunsmuir and served as a schoolhouse for the area.

“I know my dad, who’s a retired deputy chief, went to Grade 1 there in ‘51 or ‘52, so the building’s been there as long as I know of…” the captain said. “It was tough to see. Our old fire hall was right next door on the same piece of property. We moved out of there in 2008 up to our new hall.”

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(Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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