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Fire that destroyed historic Hangar 11 is suspicious: EPS

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The Edmonton Police Service has confirmed a fire that destroyed a historic hangar in central Edmonton is considered suspicious.

EPS has confirmed it is investigating the fire but has not provided any additional information.

Hangar 11 at 109 Street and 117 Avenue was part of the former Edmonton Municipal Airport, previously known as Blatchford Field.

The hangar was built by the U.S. military in 1942 and was believed to be the last building of its kind in western Canada.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services was called to the hangar just before 7 p.m. on Monday after fire broke out and ultimately destroyed the building.

The fire was so bad that NAIT, which is situated next to the hangar, moved classes online on Tuesday, and told staff and students to stay away from campus.

The technological institute, educational home to about 40,000 students — around 16,000 of them full-time — announced at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday the main campus will reopen on Wednesday.

Tim Antoniuk has spent the past five years working to turn the hangar, which had been designated as a heritage resource by the city, into a mixed commercial-residential space.

"There was a part of the Alaska Highway that was fighting the World War. The Alaska Highway was basically a route, and Blatchford and Hangar 11 was a part of it," Antoniuk told CTV News Edmonton. "So people, supplies, ammunition from the States would come up to Blatchford Hangar 11 as a staging ground, and then up to Alaska and Russia to fight the World War."

"In 2017, the National Trust of Canada put it on the top 10 most endangered places in Canada list. So it's not only an important historic resource to Edmonton."

Antoniuk put forward a proposal to the city in 2021 to redevelop the hangar, which had been boarded up since 2013.

Hangar 11 in Edmonton.

Council committed to spending $5 million over 10 years – capped at $500,00 per year – to help restore the hanger, with the money coming from the city's Heritage Resources Reserve.

On Tuesday, Antoniuk reflected on those plans.

A rendering of Hangar 11, which is set to be redeveloped into 200,000 square feet of mixed-use retail, commercial, restaurant, event and residential space with a rooftop patio and garden. (Supplied)

"When a house goes up in flames, it's not the wood and the timber you think about, it's your home, and what it could be. And we had some pretty spectacular plans for it," he commented.

"We found a way of preserving a lot of items and doing sort of an adaptive reuse program."

"We were going to have hundreds of people living on where the ancillary offices used to be and the body of the hanger was going to be a massive social hall with all local food vendors really focused on cultural food from around the world."

A rendering of Hangar 11, which is set to be redeveloped into 200,000 square feet of mixed-use retail, commercial, restaurant, event and residential space with a rooftop patio and garden. (Supplied)

Antoniuk would not confirm the exact amount spent on the project to date, but says it's in the tens of millions of dollars.

He did confirm there were no electricity or utilities turned on at the building at the time of the fire.

"I don't know how it wasn't set by a human," Antoniuk said.

He's hoping to find some way to rebuild and continue the project.

"We're gonna try to work with the city and see if we can rebuild it," he said.

"It's really fresh, the wound is deep, but that's all I can think about. This can't be done."

Reaction from city councillors on Tuesday to continuing with the project without the hangar was mixed.

Ward Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette said the $5 million promised for the project would likely be reallocated.

"The funding that was for the allocation was specifically because it was a historic resource, not to augment private operation. And now that the historic resource has gone, it's hard to justify that allocation of dollars."

"If they're interested in preserving whatever they can, that'll be absolutely good," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.

"Preserve some of the history of Blatchford and the aviation and the presence of hangars in that area."

An old airport hangar on the former municipal airport grounds in central Edmonton next to the NAIT main campus burns on April 22, 2024. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton)

Ward pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell also spoke about the history of the building.

"To lose that building and its place in history is just awful. Just awful," he said.

"Not just the structure and everything that was represented, but people were working on that project."

"There were people that were going to be employed for the next couple of years turning that building into something else, they've lost their project that has an economic impact."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson, Craig Ellingson, and Erin Bezovie 

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