New Westminster’s EL Lewis building destroyed
By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer
On the morning of October 10, residents of New Westminster awoke to the sound of sirens, the smell of smoke, and talk about a local disaster.
The iconic EL Lewis building, which housed the famous Copp’s New West Shoes, was entirely engulfed by a savage fire that has levelled a half-block of businesses along Columbia Street.
The fire broke out at around 4 a.m. and quickly proved too much for the New Westminster fire department to handle. Calls were made to the Burnaby and Delta fire departments for back-up. Emergency services personnel were able to contain the fire to the immediate area and the fire did not spread to adjacent blocks.
The effects of the fire were felt far and wide: many local businesses along Columbia Street were forced to close due to the area being closed by emergency personnel, and also due to widespread smoke odour issues. Many businesses decided it was better to close for a few days while the scene settled down, while many other businesses will unfortunately not be able to re-open due to the damage the fire caused.
The EL Lewis building—built in 1904 shortly after the Great Fire of 1898—was the epicentre of the disaster and housed Copp’s Shoes until earlier this year. The well-known shoe store moved out on January 1 and a bridal shop moved in. Many brides have lost their gowns, with some gowns seen laying in the rubble in the days after the disastrous fire.
The loss of the building represents not only a loss to the historical heritage of New Westminster, but 11 tenants made their living within the EL Lewis building and those tenants, most of whom were small business owners, are now without a place to call their own.
Terry Brine, who co-owns the block and was the owner of Copp’s Shoes, would like to rebuild the building but realizes that “you can’t replace history.”
In times of tragedy, community members are either pulled apart or brought together. In the case of this recent event along Columbia Street, people are coming together to overcome. The Paramount Theatre Gentlemen’s Club changed part of its marquee to say “We love you, New West. Stay strong,” and Marisa Wiens of Surrey has started a Facebook page where people can donate wedding gowns to those women who lost theirs in the fire; her page, Gowns for Golden Brides, has more than 600 likes.
The New Westminster fire department has yet to disclose whether or not the fire is suspicious and are still determining the series of events that led up to the disaster. Investigators are still sifting through the rubble to determine a cause of the fire. Early indications are that propane canisters, which were on the roof from construction work that had been done earlier that day, may have caused the fire.
Once again, Downtown New Westminster has been permanently altered and a vast chunk of prime historical buildings has gone up in smoke. Fortunately, no injuries have been reported and local residents are banding together to assist all affected parties.