TRURO – A downtown landmark that has graced Prince Street for more than 120 years was partially destroyed Thursday by fire.
“I really don’t know where we stand right now,” said Warren Legge, co-owner of the former A.J. Walkers hardware store, as he watched thick, billowing smoke streaming out of the rear of the building.
“Look at the smoke now. Right out through the roof now,” Legge said, as he stood leaning against a chain link fence at the edge of the property on Walker Street.
“It’s pretty disheartening,” he said. “It’s been in my family since 1939.”
The doors to A.J. Walkers were closed in March 2012 after Legge sold the hardware business to Home Hardware. A number of other businesses had set up in the building since then, however, including a custom T-shirt operation, a western wear store and a used goods shop.
While firefighters at the scene said they had not yet determined a cause, Legge said it was his understanding that the blaze was related to a wood fire that had been burning in the section of the store next to the Dairy Queen.
“He’s been there for five or six months and always put a fire on every day,” Legge said of the businessman who had run a used goods shop in that part of the building.
“He put one on today and for some reason something happened. I mean, we used to sell stoves in that section and it was all hooked up legally and stuff,” Legge said. “And he was renting and didn’t have a lot of heat in that section so he lit a fire every day. Today, something happened, I don’t know.”
The property has been on the real estate market for some time, but in a twist of irony, however, a purchase agreement had recently been put place for the property by local real estate developer Jon Keddy.
“It’s a shame. There’s a lot of history going up in flames here,” Keddy said as he watched the building burn, over the sound of breaking glass from the fire.
Keddy said it was his intention to bring plans before town council in the near future to develop the site into a 20-unit residential building called Walker Lofts.
The fire began around 1:30 p.m. and firefighters were alerted by the building’s sprinkler system.
For most of the afternoon, heavy grey, brown smoke billowed out in thick clouds from both the front and back as firefighters attempted to gain entry.
By late afternoon, orange flames that had first shown themselves through one back corner of the roof, had burned through an exterior wall from floor to ceiling on the first floor.
Nova Scotia Power crews had earlier cut electrical connections and an excavator was later brought to the site for the building’s demolition.
The building’s history began in 1890 when A.J. Walker opened a hardware store on the site.
During the 1920s, the company suffered some loss due to fire but the building was saved. In 1948, it was hit by yet another fire, although once again, the structure was not destroyed.
An official cause for Thursday’s fire has not been provided and a Truro Fire Service official was not available for comment at press time when firefighters were still on the scene.