Owners use savings to rebuild historic B.C. theatre after devastating spring floods

One of the longest running movie and live-performance theatres in Western Canada will re-open this month after devastating floods in the spring.

In May, floodwaters poured into the Gem Theatre in downtown Grand Forks, swamping the seats and covering the stage.

It looked like the historic theatre, built in 1913, might be ruined.

"We thought maybe we would just die," said owner Maureen Paquet. "You kind of almost blink twice because you are not really sure what you are seeing."

Maureen and her husband Marius Paquet have run the theatre for three decades. They show Hollywood movies and rent it out for live productions, concerts and parties. But the couple, who are past retirement age, didn't think they had it in them to gut and rebuild.

"It was quite bad. The seats were flooded except for the last two rows in the back. The water was over the stage," Marius Paquet said.

Bob Keating/CBC

The Paquets found out they did not qualify for flood insurance because the water came in the door and bubbled up from plumbing. They were among many people in Grand Forks who found they did not have "overland" flood protection.

"Everybody who checked the theatre said you'll have no problem because we have excellent insurance," said Marius. "Because the first four to six feet of water came up from the sewer but a little bit came from overflow, they denied our insurance, so we paid for everything".

The Paquets hired contractors and donned safety gear themselves, ripping out hundreds of seats, tearing up the flooring and rebuilding the stage. They did much of the cleaning work themselves and Maureen Paquet says they spent about $200,000 of their own money rebuilding over six months.

"It's a big job by the time you take all the seats out. We had 300 seats that had to go," said Marius.

The Gem Theatre/Facebook

The Paquets are close to finishing and hope to re-open the Gem in time for the Christmas film and party season.

"It's probably one of the most fun businesses there is," said Marius. "And people are incredibly nice. It's just a fun place. It's just a fun business to have."

The province just announced a $2.9 million fund for businesses like the Gem. Business owners are eligible for up to $18,500, and the couple hopes Disaster Financial Assistance helps out too.

For now, the Paquets say they're just thrilled to get the doors open again.