Cause of fire at Hamilton’s Ukrainian hub still a mystery

Provincial fire investigators have finished sifting through the charred shell of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre without making public any findings about what spurred the devastating weekend blaze.

But centre board president Stephanie Baran said investigators told her that it was possible the fire started on the second floor.

Investigators with the Ontario Fire Marshal were called in after an early morning Saturday fire ravaged the beloved community hub on Kenilworth Avenue North, collapsing the roof and much of the second floor into a rubble-filled shell that created dangerous conditions for officials probing the blaze.

Deputy Fire Chief John Verbeek confirmed provincial investigators had released the scene Monday and added Hamilton’s fire department “will be awaiting (their) report with respect to cause.”

Baran, who spent much of the last three days watching the destruction of the building, said investigators did not share with her a possible cause.

“But they said it was very difficult, dangerous to even enter the building to search (for answers),” she said. “And they said it was possible it (the fire) started on the second floor.”

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Baran insisted on monitoring the dismantling-by-excavator every day in the hopes that historical mementos — particularly photos and paintings — might be salvaged.

She is still holding out hope the centre’s insurance company might rescue Ukrainian school graduation photos on the “least-damaged” southern wall of the building shell.

The centre was a repository of local Ukrainian history, with heritage documents dating back to the purchase of the theatre in the 1960s, a collection of paintings by artists from the eastern European country and photos of graduating Ukrainian school classes dating back nearly 50 years.

Elements of the 1930s-era theatre also remained in the centre — particularly the stage, ticket box office and ornate gold crown moulding around the high ceilings of the performance space.

Several organizations, including a credit union and the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church, have already reached out to offer aid or a temporary home, Baran said.