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‘My auntie mattered’: Gastown fire victim’s family left with unanswered questions

Click to play video: 'Gastown fire victim’s family left with unanswered questions' Gastown fire victim’s family left with unanswered questions
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. Emad Agahi reports – Apr 24, 2022

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.

Friends and family have identified Mary Ann Garlow as one of the victims of the deadly Winters Hotel fire. Submitted

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.

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“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.

Read more: ‘I just knew she was in there’: One of two victims in Winters Hotel fire identified

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.

Click to play video: 'Memorial grows outside Winters Hotel in Gastown' Memorial grows outside Winters Hotel in Gastown
Memorial grows outside Winters Hotel in Gastown – Apr 23, 2022

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.

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“Why wasn’t a working sprinkler system in place? Why was there no search of the building?” she said.

Read more: Unattended candles responsible for ‘accidental’ Gastown fire, demolition set to begin

“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.

Click to play video: '2 bodies found during demolition of Winters Hotel' 2 bodies found during demolition of Winters Hotel
2 bodies found during demolition of Winters Hotel – Apr 23, 2022

“She helped a lot of people down there and people are referring to her as a mother-like figure for them,” she said.

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“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.”

Read more: ‘I have nothing left’: Residents displaced after fire rips through Gastown heritage building

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.

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