I too felt my heart break, over and over, when I smelled the smoke, and when I heard that the Kerr Building had burnt down in the night. Immediate thoughts about the tenants’ losses and their needs raced into all of our minds. “They need shoes… They need breakfast…” was heard in the streets, in businesses, over phones, and throughout the Internet. This community corralled together, and within days, hours even, of the tragedy, countless hearts broke open and organized and mobilized to meet the needs of these unfortunate members of our community.
This outpouring from the heart not only from Nelson, but from Castlegar and Trail, and throughout the Kootenays reaffirmed for me once again why I live here, despite some of the challenges with making a living and finding affordable housing.
Unfortunately, just as quickly, there was also an outpouring of very nasty (for lack of a nicer word) sentiment being voiced throughout our community… nothing to feel proud of, that’s for sure. I understand that tragedy and loss can stimulate feelings of helplessness, frustration and also anger.
I have heard more than once that the landlords were not paying rent back to the tenants. Truth is, not only have the landlords paid rent back to the tenants, they made a point of meeting with each one personally instead of just anonymously leaving envelopes for them to pick up. It was a process that the landlords committed to from the heart.
The building was one of the only affordable rents available in this town. Its landlords have always been unique in that they have not discriminated against free spirits, artists, single moms, musicians, seasonal workers, and eccentrics. People that other landlords often prefer not to rent to have found acceptance and home at the Kerr. Many of these people have been key in adding excellent music, art, and the eclectic diversity that makes Nelson such an inspiring destination for visitors and a dynamic home to many of us.
Over the years, the landlords of the Kerr made a point of acknowledging the challenges of life of their tenants. Recognizing the humanity in each one instead of just seeing dollar signs, they accepted rent late, even providing free rent at times to help a tenant back on their feet. They allowed a lot of freedom, and offered a lot of understanding over the years to many, many people.
I know this because I was one of those people 20 years ago. The Kerr was my first home in Nelson. In the summer of 1992, my mother and I arrived after a three month road trip across Canada and the U.S., living out of my tent and the back of her car. We were looking for a home, a community we could commit to.
A raging thunderstorm was underway outside, while we sat in the Alley Way Cafe. We were soaked and travel weary yet inspired to finally feel that we had arrived. As if out of nowhere, a kind and knowing voice spoke to us.
“Are you ladies looking for a home?” Annette raised her eyebrows, smiled at us, and sipped her coffee.
After breakfast, the clouds opened up and we walked over to the Kerr, following this intuitive angel that picked us out of the crowded cafe and showed us to our enchanted home. There was music playing in the halls, and although we had not yet met our neighbours, we felt comfortable and happy to have such a dynamic place to belong. Here, we knew we were free to be ourselves.
The building may have been a little run down, but within its walls was fertile soil for the soul. While living there we witnessed (as have the landlords over the years) many people pulling their life together, catching their breath, blossoming and eventually outgrowing the Kerr, moving on to opportunities that opened up for them to take their next step.
There have been many beautiful eras at the Kerr building.