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Nanaimo club heartbroken after restored vintage canoes destroyed in fire

Click to play video: 'Vintage voyageur canoes destroyed by fire in Nanaimo'
Vintage voyageur canoes destroyed by fire in Nanaimo
WATCH: Two vintage voyageur canoes have gone up in flames in Nanaimo. The canoes were used to celebrate Canada's centennial and members of the local canoe and kayak club say their history makes the loss of the vessels "irreplaceable." Kylie Stanton reports – Nov 28, 2022

The Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club is reeling from the loss of a pair of large, vintage canoes that have formed the heart of community programing for decades.

Staff arrived at the club on Long Lake Thursday morning to find the boats and their temporary shelters completely destroyed by fire.

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“There’s just the remnant of like the fiberglass. They’re not there, they’re gone,” Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club Commodore Ashley Rowe told Global News.

The 25-foot Voyageur canoes were originally built in the 1960s and used in centennial races at the 1967 Montreal Expo.

Two of them were then gifted to a local club, and passed on to the Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club in the 1990s, where they have been used for countless races, training programs and youth programs.

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Even more heartbreaking, volunteers have spent the last year lovingly restoring the boats.

“The bow and stern had been worn away from being launched off the beach, so they were in different states of repair,” explained Sean Plecas of PMG Heritage Yachts, one of the team involved in the restoration.

“It’s unbelievable … I thought maybe they got a little bit burned but these, they were totally destroyed. There’s nothing left of them.”

Rowe said the loss will affect the club’s programming, and that the equipment — estimated to be worth about $23,000 — wasn’t covered by insurance.

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But the real loss can’t be assessed in dollars, she said.

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“I just had this sinking feeling that all of this work and time and energy and resources that a few of our volunteers had put forth … to complete the vision our board of directors had of these boats to be restored and to be back on the water creating more legacies and more memories for kids and youth and families in our community, that they were gone,” Rowe said.

“We’ve got lots of memories with these canoes and I’m really sad … They’re canoes, I recognize that, but the sentimental value of those and the history they had in our community is what hurts the most.”

Nanaimo RCMP confirmed investigators had found evidence of a possible homeless encampment under the canoe shelter, and suspect the fire was unintentional.

However, police have no security footage, witnesses or suspects.

A third canoe survived the incident, and the club hopes restoration work on that boat can begin next spring.

Rowe said the incident highlights the need for a new, secure boathouse at the club.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help replace the destroyed canoes.

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