Homeowners from Falcon Lake who lost their home to a fire last week are now raising money for the fire department that attempted to save it.

The home of Barb Hamilton and Craig Christie has served as a surrogate community centre ever since the pair built it in the 1980s. When the cedar building suddenly ignited and burnt to the ground Friday morning, the couple decided to use their circumstances as a platform to continue serving their region.

Craig Christie built his home in the community of Falcon Lake in the 1980s.

Aware that people have an innate desire to give after a tragedy, the Christies set up a GoFundMe page, not for themselves, but for the fire crews who stopped the fire from spreading beyond the walls of their home.

“It took me aback a bit,” admits Bruce Morrison, the Chief of the Southeast Whiteshell Fire Department. “My first thought was that there should be a GoFundMe for the Christie family. No matter what kind of insurance you have, it is probably never going to replace everything you just lost… I was floored.”

Morrison’s department is one of few in Manitoba that functions entirely on unpaid volunteers. Whereas other departments offer members an indemnity or remuneration, his fire hall has no municipal tax base and functions in a small community of cottagers and only 450 full-time residents.

“They are well aware that our fire department relies a lot on donations,” continues the chief. “I think this is just their way of saying, ‘hey, we value what you just did and we want to help’. It is very selfless of them.”

Selfless it may be, but it does not negate the emotional toll of the unexpected loss. According to a longtime friend of the Christies, Donna Besel, the couple and their three daughters are still processing the recent events.

“In any family, it would be tough to lose a house, but I think especially so in this house that was such a centre for people to gather and listen to music and have singalongs and eat large homemade meals...”

The Christie home was well known for hosting musicians, ski lifties, and community meetings.
Besel agrees with Morrison’s kindly assessment of the family and says they were and will continue to be a central part of the community. To many, she says, losing the home feels like losing a piece of Falcon Lake history.

In their heyday, Barb and Craig were both construction workers. They built the home themselves using the kinds of low-energy and Eco-friendly technology that was just beginning to trend. Putting their carpentry skills to good use, Besel says the beds, furniture, and doors were all handcrafted from fine woods. A hot tub, sauna, and large porch were also added to the building to fully embrace the 'lakeside living' mentality.

Barb Hamilton has been instrumental in building up her community and planning local events for as long as she has been living in the region.

Quickly, the dwelling took on a life of its own. It became a concert hall for budding musicians; a temporary residence to ski lifties who had nowhere to stay. It was a quiet nook to read a book, a comfortable spot to play a game of bridge, and the perfect venue for a warm and wild party. The Whiteshell Trails Association often held their meetings there, as did new cottagers, intent on learning about the region. To almost everyone who knew the Christies, whether they lived there or not, the building felt like home.

While the memories of the Christie house will last indefinitely, a museum-full of priceless treasures has disappeared forever. As Besel puts it, the house was unique in every way. Its rooms were adorned with original artwork, its sinks were meticulously shaped from pottery, and its general atmosphere was reminiscent of pioneer times. 

Parts of the home evoked the days of early Manitoba settlers.

Besel relays the house’s final moments, as told to her by her dear friends.

“They were just having a relaxing morning when Craig happened to go outside and notice that the cedar shakes on the roof were on fire,” she details. 

Immediately, the two distressed homeowners began grabbing their valuables and throwing them out of the house, intent on saving as much as they could before the fire spread.

“The firefighters arrived and told them to get out of there because it was not safe,” retells Besel. “The fire went fast because everything was wood; the floors, the walls, the doors, the furniture… everything in there was wood.”

Morrison agrees. He says the characteristics that made the house so beautiful were the same characteristics that made it so flammable. In mere minutes, he notes, the building went up in flames.

The house ignited on the morning of Friday, March 26.

“We did our best to do an initial attack but, because it became so hot, we had to stand back,” describes Morrison. “We actually lost some lines of hose from the extraordinary heat.”

Realizing they would not be able to save the residence, the firefighters refocused on making sure the fire did not spread to the nearby bush. Everything the Christies had endeavoured to remove from their house was eventually devoured by fire. The loss was devastating.

While Besel mourns in solidarity with her friends she maintains a level of optimism. “I don’t mean to sound callous, but more than anybody else I know, they are well-equipped and have the skills to rebuild.”

Having spent years in the construction industry and years more building Falcon Trails Resort into what it is today, Besel is confident the Christies will recover.

Anyone touched by their story or otherwise moved to give is invited to visit the GoFundMe page for the Southeast Whiteshell Fire Department in memory of the Christie/Hamilton Home.

According to Morrison, the fire burned so fast and hot that nothing could be saved from the fire.