Massive flames have claimed another part of Regina’s history.
Just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Regina Fire and Protective Services were dispatched to the General Motors assembly plant located on the corner of Winnipeg Street and Eighth Avenue. Flames could be seen from several blocks away as the fire grew bigger by the minute.
Kelly Goff, the owner of Beachcomber Hot Tubs, found out through Facebook that the building had caught fire. Her business was located right across the street.
“Our employee actually messaged us and then tagged us in a video of a woman doing a live feed on Facebook,” she said. “She was on the other side of where we’re located, so we weren’t positive where the fire was or which part of the building.”
Goff added she heard explosions and crackling noises in the video which sparked concern for her business.
More than 30 firefighters were battling the blaze as gas tanks were exploding inside the hanger. Deputy fire Chief David Kinvig added the fire was so big no one was going inside to try and fight it offensively.
“Two of our big ladder trucks here,” he said. “Multiple pump trucks were around the building, so we had a fair bit of apparatus on scene.”
‘Didn’t hear explosions’
While the fire was burning a part of the building, people in The Grid – a virtual reality arcade on Winnipeg Street – had no idea what was happening.
“It’s a soundproof building so we didn’t hear any of the explosions,” said Evan Bonk, who works at the arcade. “A guy knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey your buildings on fire,’ so we grabbed our coats and then the fire alarm went off around 10:20 p.m.”
Bonk said prior to the arcade taking over part of the space, it was a fully functional sound studio. He added the studio still operates so being soundproof is key, along with playing virtual reality games.
Brandon Powell was there with Bonk.
“I think the girlfriends more worried than I am about the whole thing,” said Powell.
Witnesses watched knowing it was their belongings inside
Most fires or crime scenes bring out a crowd of people with their phones raised high to Snapchat or broadcast the event live on Facebook.
Once the fire died down, most people left. However, two men and a woman were seen standing in shock and despair. They wanted to remain anonymous as it was their trucks that were in the hanger that caught fire.
They said everything from their semi-trucks to other people’s dump trucks, bobcats, campers and tools were inside where the fire had broken out.
One of the men reflected back as the flames simmered down and smoke could only be seen from a distance.
He pointed northwest of the building, near Seventh Avenue, where a test track was located. He added that’s where General Motors would test vehicles manufactured at the plant.
History of the plant
The assembly plant opened back in 1927, with the first car off the lot the following year. It was the first plant to release a Canadian-made Chevrolet with a six-cylinder motor.
At one point more than 800 people worked for GM in Regina. Due to the stocks crashing in 1930, the doors were shut, but not for long. A year later the plant reopened to create Oldsmobiles.
Then in 1941, the federal government at the time took over operations to produce ammunition for the Second World War. It was re-named Regina Industries.
The provincial government acquired the building in 1967. But the property does not fall under the municipal heritage bylaw, which would guard it against any alteration or demolition.