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Fire destroys Ormstown’s Express 57 restaurant: Campaigns are underway to help restore the beloved diner to its former glory

Ormstown residents awoke to the smell of smoke and devastating news on July 26, after the village’s Express 57 restaurant was engulfed in flames overnight.

Firefighters were called to the scene shortly after 2 a.m. following reports from citizens as well as a second call sent automatically from the neighbouring Abracadabra Early Childhood Centre.
Despite the intensity of the flames, Ormstown firefighters, helped by members of the Huntingdon, Howick, and Franklin fire departments, were able to contain the fire relatively quickly, and had it under control by 3:30 a.m.

The apartment above the restaurant suffered significant smoke damage, and the daycare, which shares a wall with the restaurant, was forced to close for several days as smoke had also penetrated the building.
The restaurant’s owner, Claude Gervais, posted several emotional videos to social media depicting the fire burning as well as the aftermath inside the former dining area, which was renowned for its retro look and memorabilia. Gervais, who celebrated the restaurant’s 25th anniversary just last year, referred to the fire as his worst nightmare.

 

A bald person in a ball cap sits on a bench, back to the camera, looking across the road at old brick building which is blackened with smoke and boarded up
Claude Gervais, the owner of the Express 57 in Ormstown, whose restaurant was all but destroyed by a devastating fire overnight on July 25. He has already decided to reopen. PHOTO Courtesy of Claude Gervais

 

Community supports 
plans to reopen
Now waiting on his insurance company, Gervais has decided to reopen. “We have to bring back the restaurant,” he says, noting he is trying to pick himself up. “It is my life,” he says, of the beloved eatery. He also has a supportive community to fall back on. Within hours after the fire, an online campaign was launched to raise funds to help cover the costs of replacing the restaurant’s cachet of collectibles.

“In each community, there are always emblems, distinctive monuments, that we particularly cherish, and for the Haut Saint-Laurent community, L’Express 57 has been one of those essentials for 26 years,” says Gabrielle Limoges, the director of Une Affaire de Famille.

She started the campaign on the Canadahelps.org platform with the goal of raising $10,000 to help Gervais get back on his feet. As of August 8, over $6,500 has poured in from donors including local business owners, fellow restaurateurs, and faithful clients. The fundraiser will continue until September 2 and can be found online at https://bit.ly/3bFUq4L.

A second campaign to collect memorabilia has also been launched by Ormstown business owner Zoë Gillies, who posted an appeal for donations on social media that had over 500 shares and reached upwards of 35,000 people in less than 24 hours.

“Claude has always been there when I started my business. He made a huge impact in my life,” says Gillies, who admits she has been blown away by the response. “We need to support each other,” she says, while noting that donations can be dropped off during business hours at her store, Le Grenier de Zoë, where she will hold the items until Gervais is ready to accept them.

Some community members are also working to restore salvageable memorabilia from the restaurant so it can be returned once the business reopens.

Gervais says he gets messages of support every day and is generally overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community. “My customers and the people of the Valley are fantastic,” he exclaims, while admitting that the loss of so many antiques has been particularly heartbreaking. “The insurance will not cover any of that,” he laments.

 

The inside of a restaurant post fire, the floors are cieling are blackened and peeling,tables and chairs are covered in debris, there are still antiques and memoribilia on the shelves
Fire destroyed the Express 57 restaurant, including the antiques and memorabilia that contributed to the restaurant’s cachet. PHOTO Courtesy of Claude Gervais

 

Happy to be safe
Gervais says that while the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, he is thankful that no one was injured and above all that his mother, who lives above the restaurant, is still with us. “My mom called me at 2 a.m. saying she thought she could see smoke on the restaurant security camera,” he says. Gervais arrived a few minutes later and, with the help of neighbour Patricia Lessard, managed to locate his mother and rescue her from the burning building. “I think that is what is holding everything together,” he says, of having been able to get there in time to save his mom.

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