Two years after fire, still no certainty for Hay River highrise

A file photo of Hay River's highrise from the summer of 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Two years after a fire left Hay River’s highrise uninhabitable, the territorial government says discussions are ongoing about the building’s fate – and whether its doors will ever again open to residents.

The building’s 11th floor caught fire on March 15, 2019. Ultimately, more than 100 residents were displaced from their homes.

Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, last week told the legislature he wants to see the building renovated and reopened. He asked whether the GNWT had considered buying the building from its present owner and turning it into a mix of public and market housing.

“My concern is that when we lost the highrise, it displaced a number of people,” Simpson said.



“When people get displaced in Hay River, they are either on the street or they may not tend to move to Yellowknife or other northern communities – they move south.”

Smoke is seen coming from Hay River's highrise on March 15, 2019
Smoke is seen coming from Hay River’s highrise on March 15, 2019.

At the time of the fire, prior Hay River South MLA Wally Schumann expressed doubt that its residents may ever return.

“This could be weeks and weeks, if not months, if ever, if you get back into this building,” Schumann said in March 2019.

Since then, building owner Harry Satdeo has pledged to reopen the highrise numerous times. In November 2020, Satdeo told NNSL he was “very optimistic” that a consultant hired by the GNWT would approve of remediation work regarding asbestos, mould, and fire damage to the building, paving the way for people to move back in.



At the same time, however, Hay River’s local broadcasting society had to move its equipment from the building after receiving a warning that the highrise’s power was to be disconnected. Northland Utilities said Satdeo’s company was in arrears.

Little progress has been visible since.

In the legislature last week, housing minister Paulie Chinna said the NWT Housing Corporation was exploring ways to acquire funding for the building to be reopened. She stopped short of saying the corporation had an active interest in buying the structure.

“Looking at that building, we are in conversations with the owner presently … and we are looking at the co-investment funding applications as well,” said Chinna, referring to a federal housing fund that requires co-investment from a second sponsor like the territorial government.

“However, we also realize that there are a lot of additional issues with that building,” she added.

Unsafe balconies, a damaged fire alarm system and a range of other issues related to fire protection are among concerns documented by Chinna in the past few months.

The NWT Housing Corporation was not able to provide comment regarding the current status of the highrise and the nature of conversations with the building owner. Satdeo could not be reached by phone.