Bottom row: Residents Rudy Storteboom (left) and Liberty Tax owner Merv Paraboo. Top row: Donna Moore (left) and Donna Francis. Miranda Gathercole Langley Times

Paddington residents welcomed back into homes after 2016 fire

More than 100 people were displaced by a devastating fire at the Langley City complex

It was an event originally created to foster a sense of community among neighbours, but this year, Paddington Station’s fourth annual block party has taken on even more meaning.

The Sept. 8 party, scheduled to take place in the courtyard of the apartment building at 5650 201A St., will also serve as an official welcome back celebration for the owners and tenants who were displaced by a devastating fire on Dec. 11, 2016.

More than 100 people lost their homes that day, after discarded smoking material turned into an inferno that destroyed the fourth floor of one of the two apartment buildings.

Months of restoration work ensued, and residents finally received the OK to begin moving back in at the end of July.

READ MORE: Paddington bear damaged in Langley City fire is repaired

“It really is like the rainbow and the pot of gold at the end,” said Donna Moore, a strata council member.

“At the time, it felt so terrible when all of that happened, and now we’re coming back bigger, better. We’ve got a gym, we’ve got a guest suite. People are coming back and they are so excited. It’s even better than it was.”

Strata members estimate that about 20 to 30 per cent of those who lived through the fire are moving back in. The others were either renters who found new accommodations, or owners who decided to sell. Some people did not have insurance and had no choice but to recuperate their losses.

“I think it was hard mentally. It’s hard on people (to come) back,” Moore said.

“It was a terrible time for some people. So now two years have gone by, but it’s not necessarily (a place) they want to revisit.”

Moore, and fellow organizer and strata council member Donna Francis, are excited to see new and familiar faces at the complex’s big celebration.

Save-On-Foods is donating food items, while Langley City business Liberty Tax is sponsoring a movie night on a giant screen in the courtyard. Donations will also be collected for the Langley Food Bank.

This generosity is a continuation of the $250,000 in donations that poured in from the community following the fire.

READ MORE: Langley helps: $250,000 raised for Paddington Station fire victims

“We really want to thank all of those who contributed by sponsoring, organizing, paying and contributing to events and activities that showed their support,” said Rudy Storteboom, a Langley City councillor who also lives in complex.

“It was especially thought-provoking to have it happen at Christmas, it really brought people to a place where they wanted to help.

“It has been a team and there are a lot of people who are unsung heroes in pulling this all together. It was a terrible trauma but now we have a happy ending.”

The first block party was held in 2015 at a time when the complex was plagued by problems ranging from mail theft to people sleeping and defecating in doorways.

READ MORE: Block party aims to build community

A small group of people turned out, followed by a larger group of people the year after.

But last year, the block party turned into a massive thank you concert for the whole community, with performances by country artists Karen Lee Batten and Emily Taylor Adams.

There are still some challenges with “outside pressures coming in,” and as a result, new courtyard gates were installed earlier this month. But Francis says the atmosphere is like “night and day.”

“What we are finding now is that people are a little bit more protective over our community. It’s like an ‘our,’ it’s not an ‘I.’ It’s really cool.

“Overall I find that we are becoming a family. And we’re all in this together and people are more neighbourly and looking out for each other.”

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