A fire that destroyed the old Bond Theatre in Carbonear April 23 may have been out, but the hustle and bustle on Water Street continued into the next morning.
Many residents stopped in front of the charred remnants of the iconic building for a final look at a piece of the town’s history.
The two-storey structure, which, according to local historian Burt Parsons, began construction in 1947 and opened in Aug. 6 1948, was the former home to a 350-seat theatre owned by United Motion Picture Corp.
In the late 1970s the theatre shut down and has since been home to a marine supply shop (two owners), a family video store and most recently a trophy and engraving store called The Trophy Hut.
But now, with the building in a heap on the corner lot of Bond and Water streets, many residents began snapping photos as a memory of the devastating event.
The feeling in the downtown neighbourhood the next morning was somber, and the smell of soot and burnt wood still lingered in the air. Embers smoked in the centre of the heap, but the fire was out.
After a full afternoon and most of the night, firefighters successfully prevented the fire from spreading, and left in the early morning hours.
All that was left was a pile of wood shards and some white, melted siding. A deflated hose was still at the scene.
When Natalie Austin of Carbonear, who was part of a six-person group who had just signed a lease with owner Bill Sheppard to rent the property, stopped by April 23 to begin laying out her new store, she noticed condensation on the windows.
“I just thought there was a pipe broken inside,” Austin told The Compass the next morning. “And I thought, ‘Oh, not a big deal, we can fix that.’”
She didn’t notice the fire until she put her key in the door and it didn’t unlock. Her key twisted from the heat, then she saw the smoke coming from the door.
“I just starting yelling, “fire, fire,’” Austin said.
She made a call to the Carbonear Volunteer Fire Department just after 1 p.m. and waited outside.
“When they pulled up, there was smoke coming out of the side (of the building). The fire was in the walls,” Austin explained. “I had this feeling it was gone.”
Within an hour, thick smoke blanketed Water Street from the old theatre to Rorke store museum. Some businesses closed down and some residents were evacuated from the area.
The smell and sight of smoke were reported as far away as Salmon Cove to the north and at least as far as Bristol’s Hope to the south.
Austin confirmed her business, which will offer different art pieces, struggled to find a place to rent downtown before the old Bond Theatre building became available. Other locals have already offered assistance to help find another place in the same area.
Reactions from owner
Bill Sheppard sat in his pickup truck at 10 a.m. April 24, only metres from what was left of the building.
He was waiting for an insurance adjuster, but couldn’t fathom the idea that what he considered an important part of his life would equate to a dollar figure.
The expression of sadness stayed on his face as he told The Compass of the “devastating loss” from the previous day.
“I started to cry while telling my wife about the fire,” Sheppard said, tears filling his eyes.
He said he barely got the words out.
The Trophy Hut, which opened in the building at the corner of Water and Bond Streets about a decade ago, had recently closed its doors. But the upstairs still housed antiques, bedroom sets and appliances, among other things. Those items were for sale.
Downstairs still held the equipment used to operate Sheppard’s business, including a large and expensive engraving machine. He also stored some personal items there as well.
Sheppard and several others were packing up inventory before the fire. There was no one inside when it broke out.
World War II connection
The building was a wooden structure that had received several renovations throughout the years.
But Burt Parsons, who is a former Heritage Society president, the business is not the only historic part of the building.
Some of the wood used to build the original theatre came from the Town of Victoria, when internment camps built during World War II were dismantled.
Parsons could only confirm some of the wood was used for the bottom floor of the theatre, but that it definitely came from those camps.
Although he knew the details because of his own research, he had also attended the theatre while it was around.
“(The theatre) was the place to go growing up,” Parsons explained. “There was a lot of things going on in Carbonear at that time, and one was the Bond Theatre.”
A former employee with the Town of Carbonear told The Compass the plot does not fit the dimensions required build on it because of municipal regulations. The former building was practically on the sidewalk.
Sheppard hasn’t given up hope. He is looking at the possibility of rebuilding the structure.