What It’s Like To… Discover Your Restaurant Has Been Burned Down

What happens when your restaurant is destroyed by a fire? For the owners of Fergie's Cafe, you rebuild it from the ground up.

May 22, 2019

By Jessamy and Jacob Freese, as told to Lucy Lau / Photo: Haley Ritch

When the fire happened it was the middle of the night, so we were sound asleep. Well, kind of. Our youngest child was six months old at the time, and Jake had gotten up to settle him during a cry. Jake had just gotten back in bed when he noticed a light—this unnatural orange—coming through the window. And then he heard sirens go past, which isn’t uncommon where we live on Squamish Valley Road, but then they just stopped. Suddenly, it clicked with him: there’s a fire and it’s really close. From our house, you can see the restaurant, and as soon as he opened the front door, he could see the sky was red and there were lots of flashing lights. He must have known it was bad, because he ran back to where I was still lying in bed and said, “Fergie’s is on fire. Do you want to come say goodbye?”

We eventually went outside and stood in the café’s parking lot, holding hands. We watched the fire for a while. It was terrifying, very quiet—all you could hear was this crackle—and awe-inspiring, in a way. Seeing the power of fire ripping through stuff you care about is deeply shocking. And the flames were enormous, at the same height as the treetops. We’re so, so fortunate that no one was hurt and that it happened in April—if it had been July, when it’s usually drier, our whole neighbourhood would’ve been burned. But we knew that the café was a goner.

The following day, there was this amazing outpouring of grief but also support from the community. People we didn’t know stopped by, and there was so much food left on our doorstep—even the mayor dropped something off. We were completely frozen and in shock, but having that support and hearing people say, “You have to rebuild Fergie’s” was such a surreal experience. We actually thought we wouldn’t be able to rebuild it because we’re in a no-build zone, but the District of Squamish soon got in touch with us to tell us that we could rebuild it within some very extraordinary parameters. 

We eventually went outside and stood in the café’s parking lot, holding hands. We watched the fire for a while. It was terrifying, very quiet…and awe-inspiring, in a way.

We had a family holiday booked for shortly after the fire and, at first, had decided not to go. But our general manager, Vanessa—she’s a really good friend and our right-hand woman—came by one night and said, “You guys need to go away and think about whether you really want to rebuild it.” So we did. We flew to Costa Rica for a couple of weeks and thought long and deep about it. And we decided that we’d do it and we’d basically go all in. We had to put all our chips on the table.

From last May up until now, it’s just been the mother of all building projects. We knew it would be a big undertaking, but there’s so much to do. We were given some very stringent conditions: the new café had to be on the same site, it had to be the same square footage, and it had to be 10 feet up in the air on this reinforced, heavily engineered concrete foundation because of the flood hazard area we’re in. It’s really nerve-racking bringing back something that people were and are so devoted to, especially because the building looks so different from before.

But the original Fergie’s was literally a shack in the woods, and you just can’t build that. So we’re bringing in some familiar elements: there are going to be flashes of the Fergie’s blue, and we saved this old burned-out door, which we might use somewhere. The trailer where we had indoor seating was also salvaged, so that will be parked right beside the café again. The lawn, the food, the location by the river and having a place where kids can run around and play—all of that will be the same, too.

We’re aiming for a June opening. It’s been a really high-stakes, high-stress year, but we keep trying to remind ourselves of what an incredibly privileged position we’re in: we’re building a custom restaurant space for an existing clientele who are so excited for it to open. That’s a really rare situation for a restaurateur to find themselves in. And we can’t say this enough, but this has been a story of a community that has rallied around us and lifted us up. The number of people who have shown up during construction saying they want to help is amazing. In fact, we had so many offers that our project manager said, “I don’t have enough room for all these people. We need to find another way for them to get their hands dirty.”

The cause of the fire was never determined, despite multiple investigations. We were gutted because we’d ideally like to know, so it can never happen again. But there’s no doubt in our minds that if we didn’t have that show of support—if we didn’t have people saying, “We’re so sad. Please come back”—we wouldn’t be doing this. That’s something nice about when something bad happens to you: it lets you feel how much kindness there is out in the world—certainly in Squamish, at least.   


More from our “What It’s Like To…” series:

What It’s Like To… Find out You Have 40 Brothers and Sisters

What It’s Like To… Survive an Avalanche


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