Spirit burning bright for Kerr residents

Dave Sprague (left) pitched in to help unload the U-Haul during the donation drive this month. - Andrea Klassen photo
Dave Sprague (left) pitched in to help unload the U-Haul during the donation drive this month.
— image credit: Andrea Klassen photo

He’s among the burned-out tenants of the Kerr Apartments, but rather than worry about where he’s going to live, Dave Sprague has been concentrating on his neighbours.

As the residents’ representative on a committee responding to the challenges posed by their displacement, he’s been helping others find housing first.

“I’ve been working with all the different groups and trying to get everyone else a place,” he says. “When I finally get people in places, I’ll be able to settle down.”

Sprague has been compiling and updating lists of prospective rental units, and appealing for others to make space available. In some cases, he’s happy to note, landlords have offered reduced rents — dropping the price, say, from $750 to $550.

“It’s been a hard couple of weeks, but the community support that has come through to us is overwhelming,” he says.

Sprague lived on the second floor, in apartment 204, with a roommate who wasn’t home the night of the fire. He was just starting to doze off when the alarm sounded — if he had been asleep, he figures, he probably wouldn’t have heard it.

Thinking at first it was a false alarm, like so many over the last six months, he peeked down the stairs and saw smoke. He rushed to find his cats, but frightened by the alarm, they hid.

“I searched all over. I was tearing things apart looking for them. My one cat used to hide under the blankets, but I couldn’t find them,” he says.

He was forced to leave them behind. When he saw flames coming out the roof, he knew the building would be lost.

But out of the tragedy soon came the community’s embrace.

“I can’t thank people enough for coming out the night of the fire to aid us,” he says.

From Oso Negro for making coffee in the wee hours, to Mayor John Dooley for spending much of the morning with them, to Wait’s News for providing sandwiches. And everyone who brought blankets to the Capitol Theatre where residents sheltered.

“It’s unbelievable how the community came together,” Sprague says.

During the donation drive that weekend, he helped unload the U-Haul truck crammed with clothes and goods at the old Movie Gallery location.

“I started crying, it was so overwhelming,” he says. “Such a beautiful experience to watch all the stuff come in. Mounds of it. It was so heartfelt. All these people giving their time, their help, their support. I can’t describe it.”

He hasn’t been back in the building yet to see what might be salvageable from his apartment, because he didn’t have transportation or a place to store whatever he could recover.

But while some of his property might have survived, he can’t get back his two most precious things — his pets.

“That was the hardest thing for me to go through,” he says. “That was devastating.”

A police officer discovered the cats curled up on the floor together. Nelson Animal Hospital has agreed to cremate their remains and give Sprague their ashes.

“I didn’t want to see them. I want to remember them the way they were. My one cat used to jump up and hang off the doorknob trying to open it,” he says.

Since then, a friend has given him a 2½ month old kitten, while a woman who got a kitten from him when his cat gave birth has returned it.

“I get one of the babies back. She’s about six months. I took one to the SPCA because right now I don’t have a place to keep it. They said they would help us out until we got situated.”

While some residents have left town — a woman with four children found a trailer in Castlegar and others have gone back to Ontario or Quebec — Sprague is staying put.

“I love this city,” he says. “This city showed me its true colours. It was phenomenal.”

While he doesn’t yet know where he’ll live after the end of the month, he’s not too concerned about that.

“It’s not about me right now. I can couch surf — I’ve done that before. I’ve had people offer me space to stay, but I’d like to get a permanent place where I can rebuild.”

He’s currently at the Villa Motel, but was planning to look at a trailer in Rosemont this week.

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