The St. Albert Cheese Factory, about an hour east of Ottawa, was damaged by fire on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.
Credits: courtesy of Sylvain Mainville
"There will be St. Albert cheese in the very near future," The Nation Mayor Francois St. Amour vowed.
An aborted attempt to penetrate the Quebec market left the co-op with a shuttered plant near Mirabel, so cheese production will begin as soon as it can be reopened.
And in tiny St. Albert, just south of Casselman, "the plan is to rebuild," St. Amour said.
It was a shred of good news to close a long, gruelling day.
The 9:45 a.m. blaze laid waste to the co-op, which had been operating since 1894. Flames persisted into the evening.
More than $3 million worth of cheese melted away and the blaze caused millions more dollars in damage to the factory.
"Everything's been totally flattened," St. Amour said.
More than 100 employees of the St. Albert co-op are jobless.
"The effect's coming for the next year or two," St. Amour said. "It's going to be major for a small village."
The news travelled quickly.
About a half-hour's drive down Hwy. 417, cops brought word to Herb's Truck Stop.
Herb's is something of an outlet for St. Albert cheese.
Baggies of salty, squeaky curds beckon from near the cash registers and one of the refrigerators is given over to bricks of the factory's finest.
"Per square foot, it's probably one of the highest sales volume," owner Herb Vink said. "We got people that drive a 100 miles that come here for lunch and grab their cheese and go back."
He won't get Monday's cheese shipment.
And -- for now -- St. Amour's mashed potatoes won't taste the same.
The mayor was in the habit of shredding old cheddar -- "the older the better" -- into creamy potatoes goosed by garlic and butter.
St. Albert Coun. Danika Bourgeois-Desnoyers prefers the curds.
"You just go to the store and you grab a bag and you eat it right away," she said. "Make sure it doesn't go into the fridge."
Provincial environment ministry staffers, fearful of possible contamination from factory cleaning supplies, were on hand to monitor water edging toward the nearby Nation River.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
Back at Herb's, a quiet confidence reigned.
"Knowing St. Albert, they'll be up and running again pretty quick," Vink said. "You watch."