Fire Fighting in Canada

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Niagara Falls landmark gutted by fire

Oct. 4, 2009, Niagara Falls, Ont. - A downtown Niagara Falls icon has been destroyed after a fire tore through a historic building.

October 4, 2009
By The Canadian Press

"Many people considered it the grand dame of Queen Street. It's unfortunate it's going to suffer a total loss,'' said Mayor Ted Salci about the Rosbergs department store, which was built in 1919.

The city's fire department was called at 5:21 a.m., Sunday as flames engulfed the three-storey building.

"There was light smoke on the roof line on the north side. There was light smoke coming out of the windows on the east side,'' said platoon chief Ron Wreggitt.

No one was believed to have been in the building.

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Fire Chief Lee Smith said he expected the building to be completely destroyed by the fire. The flames destroyed roof and much of the interior walls collapsed.

The fire was considered under control by 9:50 a.m.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined.

"From our perspective _ this has to be confirmed yet _ there was no service to the building at the time. We're really not sure what the source is,'' Smith said.

The community was sad to watch the flames destroy the old building.

"Back in the 1970s, I worked in there,'' said Sheila Smith, who remembered visiting the store as a child.

"I remember coming to the store, playing on the elevator when I was a kid. At one time that was the main store in Niagara Falls. You'd walk around Rosbergs the way people walk around the mall today,'' she said.

Rosbergs is now owned by Historic Niagara Development Inc., a company led by Toronto investor Mordechai Grun.

Rosbergs, a family-owned business, opened in 1919 as a men's store, run by the father-daughter combination of Jacob Rosberg and Gertrude Rosberg Carrel.

Over the years, expanded to take in 14 departments, but it closed in 1988, a victim of the growth of shopping malls.

It has been vacant for 20 years, leaving an empty retail building city officials were anxious to see take on a new life.

Florence Rosberg, one of the last members of the family to run the business, died in 2005.