After ‘heartbreaking’ fire, Waegwoltic Club moves forward with summer plans

Crews respond to a fire at the Waegwoltic Club in Halifax Thursday afternoon. Submitted

A week after the main building of an iconic recreational facility in Halifax was burned to the ground, the crew at the Waegwoltic Club remain resilient in their plans of reopening.

Following last week’s blaze, the club is still moving forward with outdoor operations for the summer, and with plans to relaunch certain programs as early as next week.

David Greaves, who took over as the club’s CEO in 2015, said that as unfortunate as it is to have excavators currently scraping up the building’s remains, the spirit of the club remains strong as it will resume activities within the week by reopening its tennis courts, swimming pools, and additional programming.

“I’ve found if you keep happy thoughts, then sometimes things will work out for you, and that’s what we’re counting on,” he said, adding that the local and international support received so far has been “remarkable.”

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Greaves described standing and watching the 162-year-old building engulfed in flames as “absolutely heartbreaking,” as he noted that members put “blood, sweat and tears,” into the property over the years, as it was regularly undergoing renovations.

He said that once it became apparent that a fire was spreading, the club’s lifeguards immediately called emergency services and began directing swimmers out of the pools. Greaves said the club was also hosting a camp for a small group of children who were evacuated at the time.

“To be the steward of this whole building and be responsible for it and having the burn under my watch is a very difficult feeling to deal with,” he added, while remnants of the building were piled behind him during clean-up efforts. “But we’re rebuilding.”

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In an unprecedented week that brought forth numerous stories of heroism displayed by first responders, as several out-of-control wildfires plagued the province, Greaves said the firefighters’ Waegwoltic response proved to be no exception.

He said the fire department kept running into the burning building to salvage old trophies, pictures, and historic memorabilia, “risking their lives” to preserve memories.

The members-only recreation facility, which features tennis courts, pools, basketball and volleyball courts, and dining areas, was founded in 1908. The club hosted royalty, the G7 summit in 1995, and is a popular venue for weddings.

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Prior to becoming a recreational landmark for families throughout the Halifax area, the building was a summer residence for former Nova Scotian lieutenant-governor Alfred Gilpin Jones after its initial construction in 1861, when it was originally known as the “Bloomingdale.”

Greaves mentioned some families attending the Waegwoltic have memberships that date back 70 years. He said in his experience of managing other clubs throughout the country, the historic nature of the Waegwoltic is what makes it stand out the most.

“In other clubs that I’ve managed, … you don’t have members who’ve been there 70 years and 80 years. Some of them have been here since they were toddlers and are now in their 80s and 90s. It’s just a fascinating club that way,” he said.

The blaze at the Waegwoltic Club, located on Coburg Road on the Northwest Arm of Halifax, began at around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Greaves said within the first hour of the building catching fire, both he and the responding firefighters believed the building could be saved.

“The front side was fully engulfed where the back side slowly looked like it was going out, so if you stood on the back side of the fire, it looked like there was a chance that you could save it. If you walked around the front, you’d realize the fire had shifted,” he said.

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The roof ended up collapsing on itself in the night following the initial start of the fire.

Greaves said he remains optimistic that his team will be able to preserve some pieces of history in the clean-up process.

“The tricky part is that I’ve got a real passion for what key pieces of furniture or pictures might still be in the pile, so we’re planning on being very close to the excavator when they’re slowly pulling things out, in case we see anything that can be salvaged,” he said.

He said the dining and canteen facilities, which were previously based in the main clubhouse, will temporarily be provided in a separate building on the club’s property, dubbed “the annex.”

The club is expected to begin its rebuilding process of the main clubhouse sometime in late Summer, according to Greaves.

— with files from Amber Fryday and Rebecca Lau

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