Half of a historic building and art gallery in Grande Prairie lay in ruins yesterday morning after its roof collapsed - but thanks to the quick thinking of its curator, no one was hurt.
The director of the Prairie Art Gallery, Robert Steven, came into work as usual yesterday, just before 8 am, but something looked terribly different. He was shocked to see that one of the beams in the gallery's ceiling was cracked and melting snow was seeping into he south wing.
Steven immediately order an evacuation of the building, contacted city crews and had the power and gas cut off in the building. The building also houses a preschool/playschool for 20 children.
Then, Steven hustled around the gallery trying to rescue pieces of art until finally, he was ordered evacauted himself. Just after 10 am, the ceiling collapsed and destroyed half of the building's southern face. Due to Mr. Steven's quick actions, no one was inside and there were no injuries.
"This is a tragedy for the people of Grande Prairie ... It's very difficult to describe what the impact of this will be on the community of the art gallery and the expansion project," said Steven.
Joe Johnson was working across the street at city hall when the collapse happened. "I was at my desk and just happened to gaze out my window. I saw a big puff of grayish black smoke, which was obviously the powder from the mortar giving way, and all this stuff just started falling away from the ... building."
Grande Prairie has been hit with one of the snowiest winters in years with more than 200 centimetres (almost 79 inches) falling in the city since last October. And yesterday when the roof collapsed? It was snowing again.
Dave Gourlay, the City of Grande Prairie Manager, says that city crews had cleared the snow off the flat roof several times this winter and that as of last Friday, there were only about six inches of snow on the roof.
An engineering study will be done on the building to determine what can be saved of the historic structure.