SAY CHEESE! Reconstruction ramps up one year after the St-Albert fire

SAY CHEESE! Reconstruction ramps up one year after the St-Albert fire
Firefighters try to douse a fire at the St. Albert's cheese factory one year ago.

CORNWALL, Ontario - The St-Albert community and its neighbours are bound to be swept back in time today.

Monday marks the one-year anniversary of a devastating fire that consumed the cheese factory in the village southeast of Ottawa that many in the Cornwall area have grown to love.

On Feb. 3, 2013, the cheese co-operative’s leaders founds themselves redirecting their priorities within the space of a few hours as they went from being cheese makers to managing a vast $30-million reconstruction project.

Over the past year, with the help of the community, partners, members, consumers and employees, the managers of the St-Albert cheese factory have rallied around the reconstruction effort.

“Three days after the fire, production was relocated and the cheese was back on the shelves,” said executive director Eric Lafontaine. “On March 15, barely six weeks after the fire, a 3,000 or so square foot shop opened in St-Albert, and finally in September, the first official sod-turning ceremony took place.”

Senior advisor and spokesperson for the Fromagerie, Réjean Ouimet, still has trouble believing how quickly the project came together.

“It normally takes businesses years to plan the construction of a new building of this size,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to everyone who backed us over the last few months.”

A new building will measure 76,000 square feet, or one-third more than the one that burned last year. It will also have a restaurant and a museum. Its production capacity will be double what it was.

“We wanted to do more than just replace the old building, we wanted to actually innovate,” said Lafontaine.

The new building will ramp up production this spring and there will be an official opening ceremony later in the summer.

Founded in 1894, the cheese factory was one of the first Franco-Ontarian co-operatives. Since then, five generations of dairy producers have succeeded one another in the cooperative.

Today, Fromagerie St-Albert is owned by some 50 members. Once it reopens, it will have approximately 100 employees.

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