Fire guts local landmark

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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RCMP investigating arson at vacant Berry's Restaurant

PARRSBORO - An arson investigation continues into a weekend fire that destroyed a local landmark, the former Berry's Restaurant.

The Willow Street building, which has been vacant since the restaurant closed several years ago, was severely damaged by fire early Saturday morning. The call came in at 1:33 a.m., and the Parrsboro Fire Department and local RCMP responded within minutes.

"We've interviewed a lot of people, as there was a lot out and about that night watching the high tide in the area, and there was a considerable amount of people on the go," said Const. Dal Hutchinson of the Cumberland RCMP. "However we have no leads and no suspects at this time. The investigation is still ongoing."

The fire was determined to be arson after an investigation by the Nova Scotia Fire Marshal's office on Saturday. The building had no electricity at the time of the incident, according to Hutchinson, who said that was one factor that determined the fire was deliberately set, as wiring was ruled out as a possible cause.

That news was difficult for building owner Barbara Berry to understand. So upset by the incident, Berry could not bring herself to view the building until Monday, and still had not seen the inside, therefore had not determined whether it was salvageable or not.

"It's upsetting to think that people don't regard other people's property," she said. "I can't understand how anyone can do something like that, when you work so hard to start a business."

She said she was thinking of her husband, the late Carman Berry, his father and his grandfather, who operated businesses at the location over three generations.

The fire was fully involved when the fire department arrived within minutes of the 911 call, according to Fire Chief Jim Atkinson.

"The flames were cming out of the gable ends and windows," said Atkinson. "It was going really good. We had an excellent turnout of guys and everyone did an excellent job."

The firefighters were able to draft water directly from the nearby aboiteau and, with help from the pouring rain, were able to knock the main fire down within minutes.

Neighbour Chris Randall said he was awakened by his son, and witnessed the fire from his apartment window as the fire department arrived and began its attack.

"I could see flames coming through the roof, probably 5-6 feet high," said Randall. "It looked like fog all along Main Street, it was that smoky. It was all you could smell, and the whole Main Street was nothing but smoke."

Randall said he saw nothing suspicious on the night of the fire and, although he has heard that the vacant building was sometimes used by people for "drinking and smoking," he said he has never seen anyone around there since moving into his apartment last spring.

Hutchinson confirmed that the RCMP have received mischief complaints over the years of people being inside the building without permission, breaking windows and even being on the roof.

The fire comes about two weeks after RCMP determined arson to be the cause of another fire that destroyed a vacant home in nearby Harrison Settlement. The investigation remains open on that case, and Hutchinson said no connection between the two incidents has been established.

"At this stage in the game we're not ruling anything out because it's still pretty early in the investigation," he said. "We look at everything, but at this time there is nothing to support them being connected."

Parrsboro RCMP are asking if anyone has any information about this crime to contact them at 902-254-2424 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

More than 100 years old, the former restaurant was one of Parrsboro's oldest buildings. Originally located on Main Street where the "old post office" now sits, the building was moved to its present spot and purchased by William Berry in the early 1900s, when it was operated as a coal and ice business. Carman and Barbara Berry opened it as a laundromat and coffee shop in 1976, later expanding it into a restaurant and pub, which it remained until it closed five years ago. Mrs. Berry said her granddaughter had been hoping to someday come home and re-open the business.

Local historian Conrad Byers remembers going into the building to warm up from skating on the aboiteau, and having Mr. Berry sharpen his skates, and he is not alone with those memories.

"It's kind of sad because it is one of our older buildings, and I presume it will be torn down now," said Byers. "It is connected a lot with the older generation, because it was one of the shops that people just dropped into."

Organizations: RCMP, Parrsboro Fire Department, Nova Scotia Fire Marshal Crime Stoppers

Geographic location: PARRSBORO, Willow Street, Harrison Settlement

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