Leaders of the Prince Albert Grand Council say they are shocked and devastated by the fire at the Senator Allan Bird Memorial Gym.

The building, which the PAGC described as a historic gathering place caught fire early Friday morning.

“We are heartbroken to lose one of the most iconic buildings of the Prince Albert Grand Council,” Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said in a statement put out by the PAGC. “The building is named it after our late Elder and decorated veteran Senator Allan Bird of Montreal Lake Cree Nation. It had the reputation as the main gathering place for many of our community events. But it has been more than a meeting spot. It has also represented the home of our government for our 12-member Nations, and it has been a site where we have honoured many of our leaders over the years.”

Others from the PAGC executive spoke on how the building was just used on Thursday to distribute 1,500 Easter hampers for families in need.

“Until we recover and rebuild, the loss of our building will have an impact on future events, including our Fine Arts Festival, sporting events, wakes, round dances, and assemblies,” said Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie.

Vice-Chief Christopher Jobb spoke on how the building was built in 1940 and was part of the residential school system for a period of time, but he says the building would later become a place of healing.

“Watching this fire destroy our main meeting place leaves us all in a state of shock,” added Vice-Chief Christopher Jobb. “We have been proud to be able to host big events, but, into the near future, we will now have to think of different ways to bring our people together.”

The PAGC also expressed gratitude toward the Prince Albert Fire Department for battling the blaze.

According to the Prince Albert Fire Department (PAFD), they responded to the scene on reports of a fire at the building around 8:30 am Friday morning.  The fire department says upon arrival there was an extensive fire on the East side of the building.  Two aerial trucks and two engines were deployed to battle the blaze.

Officials say the building is a total loss.

The PAFD also confirmed there were no injuries and the fire did not spread to any adjacent buildings.  Crews will continue to be on scene into Friday evening extinguishing the fire and hot spots.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

(PHOTOS: Photos of the Senator Allan Bird Memorial Gym on fire. Photos by Ken Landers.)