An overnight fire caused considerable damage to the new interpretation centre at Fort La Tour historical site in Saint John.
Saint John Fire crews responded to the scene, near Long Wharf, at 2:39 a.m. Wednesday.
Platoon Chief Steve Vautour said crews had some initial difficulty in accessing the site because of its remote location.
The fire was located at the smaller of the two interpretation centre buildings.
Vautour said once they got to the fire, crews were able to douse the flames in a matter of minutes.
He said damage is extensive.
“It’s significant to the structure and will require a little time and effort to have it repaired,” Vautour said. “The fire itself would have looked fairly significant in the darkness of last night. As you can see the building behind us is primarily made of wood.”
The blaze was difficult to see for Beth Kelly Hatt.
She’s the chair of the Fort La Tour Development Authority which spearheaded construction of the centre two years ago.
“It’s devastating,” she stated. “We were here in the night. I was here from 3 ’til 5 or 5:30. And just to see, we’ve worked so hard on this for the last six, seven years.”
Saint John resident Pat Fenton was among dozens of people who flocked to the site to survey the damage.
A Saint John-native, Fenton said she moved back to the city three years ago in part because of Fort La Tour. She said she walks there almost daily from here uptown home.
“Breaks my heart,” Fenton said of the fire damage. “I was just in tears when I saw it on Facebook. (Saint John-Rothesay MP) Wayne Long had posted something and I’m like, literally, ‘Oh my God! Who would do that?'”
The original Fort La Tour was built in 1631 and became a trading post for Francophone and Indigenous people. Kelly Hatt said it cost a little over $1.8 million to build the interpretation centre in 2019, with the goal of highlighting the history of the fort to students and tourists alike.
The site was supposed to open in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put that plan on hold. Kelly Hatt said they were about three weeks away from opening this year for the first time, but now that has been pushed back indefinitely.
Kelly Hatt said the authority plans to rebuild and have begun discussions about a fundraiser to help pay the costs.
“I really hope that there’s a chance we can be open this season,” Kelly Hatt said. “But we don’t have a long time so it’s going to have to be a quick one.”
Saint John Police say the fire is “being deemed suspicious,” and they have asked anyone with information to contact them or Crimestoppers.
Kelly Hatt said the site has some security cameras. She said discussions were already underway about enhanced security, including the construction of a fence around the perimeter of the the fort.