Fort McMurray pub, community, celebrates reopening 3 years after wildfire

Paddy McSwiggins has been closed for three years, ever since it was damaged during the Fort McMurray wildfire.

But last weekend, the owners and patrons, which include contractors and volunteers who helped make sure the Irish-style pub would live again, celebrated the grand reopening in style.

“It’s humbling,” said co-owner Gareth Norris, tearing up Friday.

“Somehow they took this idea out of here,” he said, gesturing to his head. “And they did this … It’s unbelievable.”

The bar was damaged during the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire when its ventilation system was left on, pumping debris and ash into the building. The entire pub had to be gutted and rebuilt. 

Norris has been locked in a legal battle with his insurance company and has yet to get a settlement for the rebuild, meaning he has been forced to pay out of pocket. 

That didn’t go unnoticed by local patrons. 

Gareth Norris with fiance and co-owner Trish Van Der Haegen. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

“Me and my guys, we put a lot of time in this place — 14, 16 hours a day — whatever it took to get the job done,” said contractor Justin Moreau.

Moreau said he discounted his services, only charging for what was absolutely necessary. 

“We wanted to see this place up and running. It’s been down for three years and [the owner] lost a lot of income and he needs to get that back.”

Norris, who has owned the pub for 20 years, said he refused to let the problems with his insurance company force him out of business. 

“We feel like we’re here to contribute to the community,” he said. “We refused to be told we were closing our doors, not because we wanted to but because someone was going to make us.”

Norris said the rebuild will cost more than $850,000, and while many of the contractors and suppliers still won’t send him invoices, he is insisting they do so. 

Others have told Norris to pay when he can. 

“They’ve been amazing,” he said. “My goal was not to get a free pub out of this.”

Justin Moreau, who helped with the rebuild, hung up the bell that has been in the pub since it opened more than 20 years ago. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Norris said he has taken out a loan, used his savings and borrowed from family to rebuild the bar. 

It’s “not the greatest emotionally to do that,” he said. “But we were close enough that we could see the end line.”

The end line arrived Friday when the pub crammed with 240 patrons celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in July as green beer flowed, bagpipers piped and Irish dancers danced.