Cleanup at former Vulcan Iron Works site begins after province lifts stop-work order

The cleanup of a burned-out Winnipeg industrial site has begun after the property owner agreed to a provincial order for a wet demolition following months of negotiations.

The massive Vulcan Iron Works warehouse on Sutherland Avenue in Point Douglas was destroyed in a fire last July, and there have been multiple fires at the property since then.

The City of Winnipeg ordered owner Sheldon Blank to clean up the property by Dec. 4, 2023, but he appealed that order. 

He argued he couldn’t proceed with the demolition because the provincial government had ordered a wet demolition, a process that involves soaking the debris in order to prevent the spread of asbestos, at a significant additional cost.

Blank said his testing had found no asbestos and a wet demolition couldn’t be conducted in winter. 

“We’re trying to comply and of course for me personally, it’s been very, very expensive, as I’ve had no insurance on the loss,” Blank said in an interview.

“So [the loss is] mine to bear, as is the demolition cost … I have no insurance to assist me.”

Blank agreed to the wet demolition and crews began preparing the site for demolition last week, but provincial workplace health and safety officials again put a stop to the work on Tuesday.

Blank said paperwork had not been properly submitted, but workplace safety officials visited the site again on Thursday and gave him permission to resume the work.

An excavator moved debris into piles while workers in hazardous materials equipment hosed it down. 

City council’s property and development committee adjourned a hearing on Blank’s appeal of the cleanup order, after he asked to amend the order to allow the eastern portion of the structure to remain. 

The healing was rescheduled to June 17.

Blank says he has confirmed with the city that he can keep part of the building.

Property and development chair Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said she couldn’t comment on the matter because the hearing is still open.

Mayor Scott Gillingham says the city and province need to work together to find ways of speeding up demolitions.

“I’ve talked consistently about the fact that we have too many derelict properties in the city of Winnipeg, we have too much neighbourhood blight,” he told reporters at city hall on Thursday.

“We have too many piles of rubble still around the city of Winnipeg. Property owners are responsible for their property.”

A wide view of a large burned down building.
A fire tore through the former Vulcan Iron Works building in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas area on July 4, 2023. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

He says he has had discussions with Premier Wab Kinew about ways the two levels of government can work together, but no concrete proposals have been made.

Blank says he wants the work done as soon as possible.

“It’s quite a large building and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time. Of course the height makes it dangerous and that has to be done carefully.”

Blank says next week, cranes will be brought in to tear down the steel superstructure of the building. 

He hopes to have the entire site cleaned up within 60 days.