Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tragic Fire at Rosemirlea Apartments

As I was coming home from work yesterday, I noticed some smoke in the neighbourhood as the bus neared my house. We were told by the bus driver that she couldn't turn down my street, so I was dropped off a few blocks away. It seemed clear that there was a fire nearby.

I followed the smoke down to Fourth Street, and caught a glimpse of the apartment building on Cumberland. I went down into a neighbour's back yard and took a few photos.

I knew immediately which building this was, and my heart sank. As I turned the corner, it was clear that the fire had already spread through most of the upper right-hand apartment.

I arrived on the scene at around 4:55pm, but the fire was well underway at this point. I found these two early videos of the fire on YouTube, uploaded by Sylvie Bissonnette, shot before the porch collapsed. The eerie sound of the fire alarm could still be heard this morning:

This building is in fact an 8 tenant apartment (6 above ground with 2 basement apartments). It's the historic Rosemirlea Apartments, located at 331 Cumberland, which were probably built around the 1920s. These apartments happen to be one of the few remaining old apartment buildings in the city. A few years ago, the other old apartment building just next door to it also burned down.

Here you can see the original hand-painted sign, reading "Rosemirlea Apartments".

This building boasts a gorgeous front entrance, with unique details, mouldings, and columns. I was told by a neighbour who's been in the building that the centre staircase was all nice wood, and that the building was quite nice on the interior. At this point, I wasn't sure if the building would survive, and I took several photos of the architectural details. As it stood, the building still had all of its original wood windows, porches, and details.

Hoses on the building were pumping as much as 10,000L of water per minute. This corner of the building was hosed so vigorously that the bricks around the doorway were eroded by the force of the water.

Details of the front porches.

Side view of the front entrance, showing some beautiful detailed panels and mouldings.

Here we see firefighters smashing windows to flood the interior to stop the fire from spreading to the lower floors.

Around 5:20 or so, Cornwall Electric arrives to cut the power to the building.

Apparently, one of the main issues was that the building had a flat tarred roof, and once it goes, they have to do the entire thing, front to back.

The small red house next door suffered some damage as well. It had some of its service wires torn off by fire hoses, and most of the siding on one side buckled from the intense heat.

This was taken from the rear of the building, where you can just make out the roof line of the red house on the lower left. My friend Gen lives just to the right of this photo on a small side street. I met up with her later.

At one point, a lot of the smoke was making its way down the staircase and out the front door.

Tenant Amanda Matte (striped shirt) and her boyfriend Chris Amell (black shirt) watch the scene in horror. Amanda had been on her way to Ottawa when she received a call from her friend, telling her that the apartment across the hall from her (she is on the 3rd floor left) was on fire. She had a cat and dog still in the building. Firefighters were able to rescue the animals, but the cat ran away afterwards. The cat is still missing, and Amanda and Chris are asking anyone who finds the cat to get in touch with her. The cat is orange and white. Amanda had just purchased renter's insurance 2 days ago after having lived in the apartment with her boyfriend for roughly 18 months.

You can hear some sound bites from Amanda in this article:

Other tenants were not so lucky. One tenant of 9 years lost everything (no insurance), while another couple, James Buckshot and Angeline Ceasor who rented a basement apartment for just a few weeks also had no insurance. Mr Buckshot also had medication in his apartment which he needs for health issues that require nearly constant attention. (Source:

As the front facade of the building burned, the heat was so intense that the bricks were discoloured (note bluish colouring around the edges).

At this point, it was nearly 7pm, and I had not gone home yet, so I walked home to grab a bite to eat, drop off my bag, and call Gen.

To give you an idea of how close by this fire was, here is a photo taken from my front yard. It is just a block and a half south from me.

Walking back to the scene around 7:50pm...

When I returned, the scene had not improved much. The entire upper brick centre had collapsed, and Amanda's apartment was in flames.

In this photo, you can just barely make out a beautiful archway though the door. It also revealed that the building's interior walls are all old lath and plaster (which burn like kindling).

Large sections of brickwork tumbled to the ground as water was pumped onto the exterior wall.

After some more time, and a quick walk over to Gen's place to check things over (make sure all the windows and doors were sealed-up), we walked back. This was probably close to 8:30 at this point.

I went home close to 9pm, and walked back over around 10pm. The fire was mostly out, but firefighters were still dousing the rear of the building.

I was actually out again this morning just before 8am to go to a yard sale, and took these "aftermath" shots. Sadly, I expect that though the building may still be partially stable on the first 2 floors, it will likely be demolished due to all the damages caused to the brickwork and the extensive water damage.

Other notes:

- Everyone and all the pets were safely evacuated from the building by the time I got there (as far as I know), and no one was injured (as far as I know).

- Some people were saying that this fire was deliberately set, but no official word has confirmed this. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

- Another rumour that I overheard was that the fire was set by a girl named Angel who had also lived in the building next door that burned down. This is also unconfirmed, and is likely just a rumour.

- Another rumour is that the fire was caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


So far, I'm really enjoying the new job. I've already done a handful of pieces, and I wanted to share with you the one I finished working on today.

Today's project was a wing chair (or wing-back chair). It had been sitting in the shop for a few weeks, partially disassembled (stripped and ready to work on), and we finished it today. My boss had stripped and refinished the legs on the chair just yesterday (they were scratched-up pretty badly).

This morning, the first piece to be installed was the bottom (the part under the seat cushion, as opposed to the underside of the chair), and front roll. My boss had to leave, so I was put on another job, and we continued after he got back (which is when I got this "during" photo).

We added a new layer of thin padding over the wings, but the rest of the chair (foam/stuffing) was in pretty good shape. Note that in the photo above, the large section of padding for the backrest is not attached to the chair.

My boss did all the sewing, and helped me position, tension, and adjust the pieces, but I mainly did most of the chair myself. He did the right wing and arm, the two front padded covers, and the cushion, and I did the rest (left wing, left arm, inside backrest, both exterior side panels, the back cover, the trim piping, and the underside).

One thing to note is that a lot of these chairs usually have the backs done differently. On this one originally (and on several others) upholsterers usually will just stretch over some additional fabric around the wings, and then just do a plain rectangular panel over the back. That doesn't look as nice when the back is shaped, so he prefers to install the back following the contours of the chair instead (which takes a bit more time, but looks a lot nicer).

Pretty nice, huh?

There's actually quite a lot of work and very careful folding, pleating, cutting, tucking, pulling, and tacking that goes into a chair like this. It's not quite as easy as it looks to get all the pieces of fabric to lay just nice (without lumps, bumps, or creases).

We haven't gotten back to the other two green chairs I had posted about earlier, because we're waiting for the fabric for them. Last week I did this rattan chair and ottoman. Again, he did all the sewing (just the ottoman cover), but I pretty much did these two by myself. These were a bit tricky because of the shape of the chair. Part of it also had to be reglued/fixed before we upholstered it.

Now, I'm curious to know: is there a big interest in seeing some of the upholstered pieces I do at work? I mainly wanted to keep this blog focused on the house renovation, and historic renovations, old houses, etc. I thought that maybe what I could do would be just to do one or two posts a month with "highlights" on some of the more historic/traditional, or just plain NICE pieces that we work on. Do you think that would work out?

Let me know what you guys (and gals) think.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Few Random Things

Peonies! I absolutely adore peonies. Their smell is just wonderful and intoxicating. Sadly, the camera seemed to be mainly focused on the clock, so I'll have to give it another shot tomorrow.

I worked a bit more on my antique chair (and on the longcase clock), so I thought I'd post a few photos.

I did my eight-way hand tie on the seat springs, and for the most part, they turned out alright. I have one spring that's a bit off, but it'll be fine. I also still need to finish restoring the finish on the wood before I go any further.

Lastly, I thought I'd share a few photos from work. I'm still getting used to working again after being off for so long, so I'm not sure what my next house project will be. I have several things that REALLY need to be addressed, but those will require me to call some places and get some quotes. I'll keep you guys posted on that.

This is a lovely antique chair that just got redone (by my boss). I'm not a huge fan of the fabric that the client picked (since it's not quite period correct for such an old chair), but it's still nice. It's hard to tell but the front legs of the chair a really nice turned ones with brass casters. The chair is from the late 1800s, and the frame was in pretty rough shape.

In the next little while, my boss and I will be reupholstering two of these matching arm chairs (the feet were removed so it looks a bit funny). I've already stripped off both of them, but I got put on another side project while he finishes a second antique chair for the same client as the striped blue one. It should be quite interesting, so I'll keep you guys updated on this "first big project". This one won't be that bad, since it's a fairly new chair, and all the foam and internal padding/springs are fine. It's just going to be new fabric basically.

It's also good to note that my boss does NOT do recovering, only reupholsery, which involves taking off all previous fabrics. He told me he once had a chair that had FIVE layers of fabric on it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How I Got My New Job

As I've mentioned a few times in the past few months, I've been laid off work since October, but all that changed just last week! It's been a bit hectic since everything happened really fast.

I went out on Tuesday (June 4th) to see if Fabricville had any supplies that I could use for my chair project. They had lots of decent upholstery fabrics, and gimp (the fancy edging), but no burlap, and no webbing. I knew about an upholsterer that was just a few blocks away, so I walked down there.

I knew about this upholsterer because this was the guy we had used when we did the Pizza Hut job. We built all the seats, but we subcontracted the upholstery portion to this guy, and he had done a really nice job.

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So I went there and asked the owner if I could buy some supplies (mainly just the webbing), and he measured-out about 4 or 5 yards of it for me, and charged me 5$. We chit-chatted a bit and I told him I remembered him from the Pizza Hut job, and that I was a cabinetmaker, etc, and he offered me a job. I said yes!

It's not exactly in my field, but upholstery still has a woodworking aspect to it, and I'm sure it's a job that I'm really going to enjoy.

Not only that, it's actually paying better than my woodworking job. I was quite excited to start. I left him my name and phone number, and he called back on Wednesday, letting me know that I could start on Thursday at 8am.

Currently I'm not working on anything too exciting, but I'm really looking forward to working on some rather complicated pieces. Right now I'm stripping old vinyl covers off some seats and backs from a clinic. There are a LOT of pieces, and I've been stripping them off for the past 3 days (with about another day left).

These are the ones I've done so far...

One of the old vinyl covers:

So here's the chair so far. I completely reglued the frame and glue blocks with hide glue, attached the webbing, and sewed the springs.

To stretch the webbing tightly, I made myself a home-made webbing stretcher out of some scrap plywood.

This is how you would use it. The webbing to the upper left would be tacked at one end of the chair, and the other end would be tensioned by leveraging the handle downwards. The extra webbing looped over the front of the "paddle" would protect the edge of the chair. It actually worked really well.

While I did the hide-glue repairs to the chair, I also repaired this clock. All of the top pieces are new replacement pieces (all the originals had been broken off and lost decades ago), and I had originally glued them down with hide glue, but they had snapped off during the move back in 2010. Now it's all nice and secure again. This is a wooden-works clock (all the gears and plates are wood), with a hand painted wood dial, and it's from around 1830-1835. I also started to paint the tablet in the bottom (which was also missing), but it's not finished. Currently it only has the border done in gold and silver bronzing powders, but it will also have a painted scene with trees in the centre.

More soon!