Recreation centre on Pigeon Lake 138A reserve destroyed by fire

Fire has destroyed a recreation centre that served as the main gathering place for residents on the Pigeon Lake 138A reserve, southwest of Edmonton.

Bernice Stoney told CBC News a fellow elder woke her up at 2:30 a.m. on Monday to tell her there had been smoke coming out of the Pigeon Lake Recreation Centre when he drove by.

She said she went there right away and found firefighters from the Samson Cree Nation's fire department responding to a fire burning inside the building.

RCMP Cpl. Gina Slaney said the fire department requested police's assistance just after midnight on Monday.

She said a fire investigator was called to the scene and the fire's cause is still under investigation.

Stoney said the building, now beyond repair, with collapsed walls and ceilings, had served as the community's main gathering place since the early 1980s.

"It was a place where we came together as a community and we celebrated," she said.

Elder Bernice Stoney says fire inside the Pigeon Lake Recreation Centre has destroyed her community's main gathering place.
Elder Bernice Stoney says fire inside the Pigeon Lake Recreation Centre has destroyed her community's main gathering place. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The recreation centre contained a satellite office for the Samson Cree Nation, a community kitchen and gym.

Many community meetings, wakes and holiday meals took place at the centre, Stoney said.

The disaster has some community members calling for more emergency services closer to the reserve.

Though the reserve is close to a fire station that serves nearby Ma-Me-O Beach and other summer villages, it receives emergency services from Maskwacis, about 50 kilometres away.

That's because Pigeon Lake 138A is a reserve shared between the four First Nations of Maskwacis: the Samson Cree Nation, the Montana Cree Nation, the Louis Bull Tribe and the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

Orenda Kihcâyis-Stonechild, who grew up in the community and now lives in Edmonton, said she has been concerned about residents' access to timely emergency services for years.

The University of British Columbia student is pursuing a graduate certificate in Indigenous public health and has proposed conducting a research project on the impacts of long-distance emergency services in her home community.

She presented some of her work on the topic to community members and Samson Cree leaders in May.

Orenda Kihcâyis-Stonechild, right, recently presented a poster about access to emergency services to First Nation leaders.
Orenda Kihcâyis-Stonechild, right, recently presented a poster about access to emergency services to First Nation leaders. (Submitted by Orenda Kihcâyis-Stonechild)

She and Stoney say the reserve, which is home to about 500 people, needs a local emergency services hub.

"During an emergency, you need help in a timely manner, otherwise, the effects can be detrimental — losses of life, losses of buildings," Kihcâyis-Stonechild said.

She said it is fortunate the fire did not harm anyone or reach the nearby school or health centre.

Fire damage can be seen at the back of the Pigeon Lake Recreation Centre.
Fire damage can be seen at the back of the Pigeon Lake Recreation Centre. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Neither Samson Cree Nation nor Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) responded to CBC News' requests for comment about the fire.

Stoney, who recently raised her concerns about a lack of programs and services in her community with the federal government, said she hopes ISC helps fund a replacement recreation centre.

"We need a building for our elders where we can come together and teach our young people," she said.