One summer morning in 2002 my mother was trying to reach me. I had worked a late shift the night before and I was sleeping deeply. She was calling incessantly, absolutely out of her mind, because Broadway was burning down and I lived in an apartment above (what used to be) the Newfoundland Emporium. By the time she reached me she was frantic. Why hadn’t I answered the phone? Why was I answering it now? Didn’t I know that Broadway was burning down?
Broadway was burning down? I couldn’t remember a time the place sounded so quiet. I listened. The building was still. The street was still. I told my mom I had to go and went outside in my pajamas. Just a couple of buildings up the street there was a barricade. A fire engine was pumping water over the block of buildings that housed The Bible Truth Supply, Broadway Textiles, (the first) Whelan’s Gate and (the first) The Next Step. There may have been another business or two, I cannot remember and online sources are, surprisingly, sparse. (Go ahead. Google and prove me wrong.) The firemen were quiet, lights on the truck were flashing and the air smelled strongly of bonfires and barbeques.
I walked back inside to call my mom and tell her what I’d witnessed. She said she’d heard half of Broadway had burnt down. To anyone on the other side of the barricades that’s probably how things looked through the smoke and flames. The day of the fire was the last quiet day Broadway saw in a while. For weeks after traffic was higher than normal, people rubbernecking to see the destruction for themselves. I walked past the building skeletons each day on my way to work. The smell of charcoal barbeque still reminds me of those burnt-out shells of buildings.
I worked at a pizza place on the opposite end of Broadway. One day the shocked and dazed proprietors of one of the burnt businesses came in for lunch. They paid with money rescued from their shop till. The bills were in perfect condition but stank of smoke. When I showed them to a co-worker he quickly pulled out his wallet to exchange one of his own bills for a smoky one. He framed it. If you pull the back off the frame you can still smell the aftermath of the fire.
The fire left all sorts of marks. There is now a vacant lot on that part of Broadway. The houses behind looked naked and vunerable after the clean-up. They’d existed back there unnoticed until then. My friends and I lost our Whelan’s Gate vantage point to the romance that was playing out between a hot dog vendor and her cab driver hunk. Corner Brook had lost some loved businesses. The Bible Truth Supply found a new home at The Valley Mall, The Next Step is now on West Street and Whelan’s Gate has a new home just across the way on Herald Avenue. The textile shop did not reopen, and I am so sure I am missing a business or two. If you do know what they are, please let me know.
In my cyber digging I did find out that 7 Broadway survived fire twice – once in 1950 and again in 2002. In the fire of 1950 most of Broadway really did burn down and most of the shops were rebuilt. This makes 7 Broadway one of the few original buildings on the street. It was a cozy apartment and sometimes I miss it. It stands out as a safe place for many reasons, only one of which being it went untouched by fire.