Seed processing centre destroyed

Monte Sonnenberg

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Damage was estimated at $150,000 this weekend after fire destroyed this barn on Norfolk Road 60 near Walsingham. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)

Damage was estimated at $150,000 this weekend after fire destroyed this barn on Norfolk Road 60 near Walsingham. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)


Biodiversity in southern Ontario nearly took a hit this weekend following a fire near Walsingham.

Norfolk firefighters responded to the barn fire at 855 Norfolk Road 60 at 12:50 a.m. Sunday. The building was fully engulfed when they arrived. Total damage is estimated at $150,000.

The barn is located on property belonging to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It was rented to St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre, which used it to dry and process seed from native shrubs, wildflowers, sedges and grasses.

Fortunately, the bulk of the 2013 harvest had been prepared and moved off site for packaging. Some rare and hard to find seed was lost, but not near as much had the fire happened earlier.

“It’s almost like there was a premonition that something was going to happen,” Scott Meyer, general manager of St. Williams Nursery, said Tuesday. “The valuable seed had already been brought over. It was past the end of the drying season and was ready to be packaged.”

Meyer was especially sorry to lose this year’s supply of seed from New Jersey Tea, a popular ornamental shrub. The seed requires a lot of work to harvest in sufficient quantities.

As well, St. Williams Nursery lost a tailing product consisting of mixed seed collections for people who want to lay down a quick cover of native plants on bare soil. Also lost were drying fans and other processing equipment.

Firefighters from Port Rowan, St. Williams and Langton responded to the alarm. A bright red NCC gate at the end of the driveway initially prevented them from getting at the fire. They broke through the hinges on one side to gain entry, creating a delay that Deputy Fire Chief Jason Whiteley estimated at five minutes.

Whiteley doubts the gates made any difference to the outcome. He said the barn was beginning to collapse once firefighters were on the scene. The extent of the damage left little to investigate.

“When our crews arrived, it was fully involved,” Whiteley said. “That makes it difficult to determine a cause.”

Whiteley added that Norfolk Fire & Rescue had noticed NCC’s penchant for gating properties that still have buildings on them. The fire service had expressed its concern about this and was in the process of securing keys when this weekend’s fire struck.

“We’ll make sure they all have keys, as necessary,” Wendy Cridland, manager of the NCC program in southwestern Ontario, said Tuesday.

Cridland added that NCC is the loser in this situation as well, as St. Williams Nursery oversaw many of the plantings done on NCC properties as part of its naturalization program.


Monte Sonnenberg

519-426-3528 ext. 150



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