Residents displaced by downtown Arthur fire bolstered by community support

ARTHUR – Nearly two months ago Rachelle Dionne stood outside in her bare feet watching smoke billow from the George Street apartment where she had lived with her partner Randy Schnurr for seven years.

Rain fell as the flames reduced the couple’s belongings to a meaningless char.

The fire started accidentally in Dionne’s apartment, and displaced another resident and two ground-floor businesses. 

Initial feelings of guilt have softened, and sleep now comes easier for Dionne. 

Her days are now filled with gratitude.

For Wendy Mudd, who stood with Dionne to provide comfort as she shook from shock.

For the FYidoctors Arthur optometrists who paid for a new pair of glasses when she was unable.

For the Arthur Lions Club that offered financial assistance.

For two local women who collected items donated from the community to help Dionne and the other displaced person get back on their feet.

And for a community’s rapid outpouring of support following the fire.

GoFundMe campaigns set up for the women have collectively raised $3,735 as of Dec. 17.

“It’s still amazing to me that people reached out, and still are,” Dionne told the Advertiser recently.

Thanks to Father’s Heart Healing Ministries (FHHM) founder Maggie Boratto, Dionne and the other displaced person are now housed in fully-furnished apartments wanting for nothing.

Reached by phone on Dec. 11, the other person – Dionne’s neighbour then and again today – told a reporter she had nothing to say about her experience and abruptly ended the call.

Boratto said her Arthur-based ministry typically houses between three and four women each year who are breaking free from the sex trade, human trafficking or addiction issues.

Weeks before the fire occurred, two apartments in FHHM’s building became available, according to Boratto.

“I felt like God was saying ‘don’t advertise,’” she said.

Photo by Nicole Beswitherick


The feeling stuck and the apartments weren’t made available as Boratto flew west for a conference. Her phone lit up shortly after the plane touched down with several messages from locals seeking housing for the two women.

Dionne and the other woman were moved in as soon as they could be.

“I felt a lot of people were rallying around these women, and I think that’s amazing,” Boratto said.

As Sheila Faulkner shampooed a client’s hair at All About Me, she told a reporter she tries to live in a way mirroring the community and the people who raised her.

 So a couple days after the fire trucks had left and the ashes cooled, Faulkner reached out to Dionne, a previous client, and took on some of the burden of starting over without anything.

“When you’ve lost everything, having the community behind you is worth its weight in gold,” Faulkner said.

Local financial advisor Bonnie McIntosh did not return a message from the Advertiser, but she joined Faulkner to collect donations and helped deliver everything to the women on Nov. 29.

“I can’t imagine the level of devastation and grief that they were going through,” Faulkner remarked.

“If I can make one day a little bit brighter and a little bit easier, it was all worth it.”

Dionne said Faulkner and McIntosh dropped off a huge plastic tote bin filled with “everyday stuff that you kind of forget you need.”

“Why would you want to live anywhere else, really?” Dionne said of the community.

Having the community rise up to help her has motivated Dionne to want to become more involved in it.

“I think it’s pretty special that someone just wants to make sure that [I’m] okay,” she said. “That means a lot to me; that doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Sherry Chappelle of the IScreamm Cone Company said the past six weeks have been full of ups and downs.

“I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation,” she told the Advertiser.

Chappelle’s candy and ice cream store had operated below Dionne’s apartment for six years before the fire.

Flames reached down the wall to the store level, and smoke and water damage forced Chappelle out.

These days, her home looks a little more like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but the community is keeping her busy.

“If COVID didn’t take me out, a bloody fire isn’t frigging going to make me throw in the damn towel,” Chappelle said.

Most weekdays are spent filling online orders and making deliveries, and she’s at Silver Fox Distillery on Saturdays. 

Sussman’s Men’s Wear on the main drag is also retailing her products.

The Arthur Lions Club, which usually makes Christmas goody bags for the Santa Claus parade, ordered 250 bags and topped the order off with a generous tip, Chappelle said.

Arthur Minor Hockey ordered 112 bags for players in a recent tournament, and a local 4-H club has placed orders as well.

“The groups have been really good for reaching out and just trying to help me in whatever way they can,” Chappelle said, adding “the community has been great.”

A GoFundMe started by Chappelle’s daughter managed to raise $6,480 with some sizeable donations.

“That really did make all those bills coming out on the first of the month that much easier,” Chappelle said.

Whatever didn’t go to bills went toward replacing some of the Christmas inventory destroyed in the fire.

Throughout waves of emotions, Chappelle has chosen to embrace an optimistic view, and hopes to return to the store-front location after it’s done being gutted and repaired.

“I’m excited to see new life in there again; just having it be what it once was, it was a happy place,” she said.

The Wellington County Learning Centre did not respond to multiple messages from the Advertiser requesting comment. 

However, the Centre has since relocated to 148 George Street and $500 has been donated through a Canada Helps online fundraiser as of Dec. 17.