The niece of a woman found dead after the devastating fire that destroyed the Winters Hotel in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood says she has unanswered questions about the tragedy.
Misty Fredricks’ aunt, Mary Ann Garlow, 62, was one of two people whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the former single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel on Water Street. They were discovered during demolition work on Friday.
The second person, a man in his 20s, has not been identified, but it’s believed not to have been a resident of the hotel.
“The media was saying everyone is accounted for, that there was 71 residents in the Winters, all of them had been accounted for, but clearly they haven’t been,” Fredericks said.
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) believes unattended candles were the cause of the fire, which broke out on the second floor of the building on April 11, leaving two people dead and five others injured.
VFRS says the building’s sprinklers had been turned off and a fire watch put in place following a previous fire, days earlier. The building operator was under orders to have the fire suppression system serviced.
That process is one of several issues Fredericks wants explained, through a coroners inquest if necessary.
“Why wasn’t a working sprinkler system in place? Why was there no search of the building?” she said.
“I just would like to say that the Downtown Eastside is full of a lot of marginalized people from all different walks of life and all different stories. But all of them deserve safe and affordable housing that is up to code.”
Firefighters conducted an initial search of the building immediately after the fire, but a second search was not conducted because the structure was unsafe.
Neither Atira Women’s Society, which operated the SRO in the Winters Hotel, or VFRS was available for an interview Sunday.
Fredericks said her aunt was a member of the Oneida Nation in the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, and a survivor of the Mohawk Institute Residential School.
She moved to British Columbia when she was 20, and lived the rest of her life in the city’s Downtown Eastide, Fredericks said.
“She helped a lot of people down there and people are referring to her as a mother-like figure for them,” she said.
“It’s important that we honour Mary Ann’s life and put a face and a name to her … (She) was a daughter and a mother and a sister and an auntie and a survivor. She mattered. She deserved better.”
Garlow’s son was one of the people injured in the fire. He broke both of his feet jumping out of a third floor window, she said.
He remains in hospital and will need extensive surgery, she explained.
“He is a person of different abilities and needs assistant living and lived with his mom his entire life,” she said.
“Where will he go from here? Who is going to take care of him? Does he need anything, how can we help him?”
Demolition of the building was suspended for the weekend on Friday after the grim discovery of bodies inside. Displaced residents have since been moved to a building owned by Atira at 303 Columbia Street.