Mr. Used is burning

Just after 11am this morning, my wife messaged me from her backyard office that there was a big fire at Belmont and Barton. I turned around from my desk which is located in our front window, to see thick black smoke billowing over top the rooftops of the homes of our neighbours across the street.

We of course immediately went outside, met by neighbours and strangers alike who were piling onto our street to get as close to to the inferno as possible. Curious to see what was sending these plumes of flames high into our skyline.

As people stood and chatted, big chunks of ashes fell into pools, onto our dry lawns, and even into the hair of one woman standing across the street. Family and friends sent us pictures from the mountain or west city showing images of the fire, and apparently it could be seen as far as Grimsby. People from Parkdale and beyond had come to see what was going on, taking photos and videos.

A view from the backyards on the west side of Kensington Ave N.

Early rumors from neighbours were that it was the old Meinekee next to Duke Electric, but soon enough it would be confirmed that the fire was actually in behind at the historic site of the old Mr. Used which was then owned by the late Len Wareing.

It was a sad day when some 100 people attended the auction for the Red Green set that local legend Steve Smith stored at the 68,000-square-foot former site of a food company, lumber firm, and an outlet store for the Glendale Spinning Mills. The old spinning mill factory still remains on Glendale avenue across the yard.

Before Len passed, I could walk around in that store for hours including never missing an opportunity to gaze through Red Green memories. Whether you needed a steel door, some tile flooring, an old tape or record, vintage pinball machine, amusement ride, or any other imaginable or unimaginable collectible, there was a good chance you’d be standing at the front counter with Len working out a price on said item at Mr. Used.

I remember taking the girls through there a few times when they were much younger. My youngest still has a pink ceramic sheep trinket holder she bought from there with the money I would give them to spend on their treasure finding excursions. For some reason she has never been able to part with this item every time we attempt a purge. Maybe Mr. Used left a lasting impression with her as well?

One half of the two-piece Mr. Used find.

It’s now mid afternoon and the power is back on. According to an off duty fireman who stood and chatted with us as we checked out the view from Belview Park where we host Pumpkin Prowl each year, power wouldn’t be restored until crews felt the fire was well contained. I don’t see flames anymore but the look of the smoke that continues to fill the air is a nasty yellow color.

View from the north/west corner of Belview Park during the fires peek.

I wanna be sad that the building will be no more, but since Len passed in 2017 at the age of 70, the shell that was left behind at 984 Barton Street E. has just been a big vacant graffiti’d blight on the community; other than an ambitious and exciting attempt to turn the historic site into a CoBuild for local builders and makers. It’s ironic that the last memory I have in that building is of the late Chris Parkinson getting half naked, holding a big chunk of crafted lumber for a charity held within the space.

Chris Parkinson at the former Mr. Used on Barton St E.

Hopefully this fire won’t burn for days like the Wellington Street N Plastimet fire of 1997. I was 24, working for Craftco Industries (Stencil House) at the former Wilkinson Compass building at 410 Wentworth Street N (adjacent the Eva Rothwell Centre). I remember first responders showing up in gas masks warning us of the fire, and walking up to Barton Street to catch a bus later that day through all kinds of toxic goodness.

The off-duty fireman remembers plastimet well, including the coworkers who lost their lives later on due to the chemicals they inhaled fighting that disasster.

Who knows what we’re breathing in as the fire smaulders and a thick yellow cloud lingers through the gaps in the houses visible out of my front window.

A view over the fence seperating Belview Park from the CP ROW.

For awhile now apparently, rumours have been abound that unhoused persons had found shelter in the building. This was all but confirmed as an officer standing on the CP ROW bordering Mr. Used and the homes on Belview Ave N, was anxiously approached by a gentleman on a bike desperately pleading for the officer to tell firefighters to put dirt on the fire which would ‘help contain it and save his home.’ “Where am I going to live the distraught gentleman pleaded?” The officer handled the situation quite calmly as the young man cycled off in frustration.

Hopefully nobody was hurt or is compromised as the remnants of an iconic Hamilton gem makes the news perhaps one final time, as it crumbles to the ground sending 100+ years of memories into the stale, 31 degree summer air.

I also hope that Plastimet has better prepared first responders and neighbours alike for toxic fires such as this. Are we limiting exposure to fire fighters and others at this location, by only allowing them to be on site for a certain length of time including frequent checkups for months to come to keep an eye on their exposure? Should residents within a certain distance be emptying pools, pulling up their crops and not replanting for years to come? Should my central air be off? How long should we be limiting exposure in the local streets?

Hamilton-Centre MPP and NDP leader Andrea Horwath stated Plastimet was a catalyst for her running for municipal office. According to this article (also linked above), many logistical changes resulted in response to that 1990’s catastrophe.

Do those atop ladders dousing the blaze almost directly below them feel like those changes were enough? What advocacy will become of this? Why was the building for sale and then it wasn’t? Should any site with known toxic chemicals be forced to have security on site until the toxins have been removed? Should all abandoned buildings have security for fears of those seeking to reward from insurance claims? Are we properly monitoring these long vacant buildings?

Stay safe Crown Point and surrounding neighbourhoods.

And that’s The Point.

Across the street from our Kensington Ave N home.
Looking through the yards lining the CP ROW adjacent Mr. Used.

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