A business owner in southeast Saskatchewan is left feeling "sick to his stomach" after he had to watch his restaurant burn down to the ground late Friday night.
Dale Orsted is the owner of the Moosehead Inn in Kenosee Lake, a well-known Saskatchewan haunt "noted for its resident ghost," according to the inn's website.
On Saturday morning, not much was left of the restaurant and cabaret in the village, about 180 kilometres southeast of Regina and surrounded by Moose Mountain Provincial Park.
While his family is safe, the restaurant is "a total loss," said Orsted.
Orsted said he doesn't know how the fire started.
"All we know is around 11:30 [p.m.] we heard loud, almost like chopping sounds, like somebody chopping down trees."
When he got out of bed at his nearby house and looked out the window, he saw fire coming through one of the windows of the Moosehead Inn.
The family ran outside to grab a garden hose, but there was already "a pretty big fire inside," said Orsted.
He believes the fire started in the bar area of the building.
Fire spread quickly inside building: owner
Orsted's house is right across the street from the Moosehead Inn. Fire crews kept the fire from spreading to his house and a neighbouring house.
"There was a lot of heat, you know, coming from across the street," said Orsted, which "melted our mailbox off the house."
He says after the Moosehead Inn closed at 9 p.m. on Friday, his wife stayed at the restaurant until about 11 p.m. to prepare pizza dough for the next day.
Just half an hour after she came home, the family noticed the fire, said Orsted.
While he said the fire initially "didn't look that bad" when the fire department arrived around midnight, it spread rapidly in the old wooden building.
"They said it looked like it was just a small fire in that one room, but it spread so quickly, it took down the whole building."
Bar just reopened in July
The fire department was still at the scene when CBC spoke to Orsted just before 10 a.m. Saturday.
Fire crews "brought in a big loader, like a big excavator," said Orsted. "Now they're just knocking the building into itself, into the basement."
The Moosehead Inn was just getting back on its feet after surviving through months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
The business had a "terrible" year due to COVID-19, with the bar being closed for around 22 months.
"When the masking policy lifted [in July], we actually were quite quite busy," he said. "People came early, right at nine o'clock when we opened, and the crowds were back."
Now, Orsted said he plans to get the scene cleaned up, sell the property and then "move on."
Good memories for former employee
The owners weren't the only people left in shock by the destruction of the Moosehead Inn.
"It was like a gut punch," said Brad Chapman, a former employee at the Moosehead Inn who heard about the fire early Saturday morning.
"I was like, am I still dreaming?"
Chapman has been living in Halifax for about 18 years, but he still has lots of good memories of his time working at Kenosee Lake.
Chapman said he started working at the Moosehead Inn "as just the guy running ice and juice and pop," and eventually worked his way up to bartending.
"Everybody knew my dedication to that place."
The Moosehead Inn was always a good-time place, said Chapman, even before Orsted became the owner in 1990.
According to the website Virtual Saskatchewan, the inn was built in the late 1960s by Ethel and Archibald Grandison.
"When the Grandisons owned it back in the day, they always made sure the kids and the youth had a place to go," said Chapman.
Chapman said he's thankful nobody was hurt during the fire.
"My heart is with Dale, his whole family and all the alumni and staff that worked there before," said Chapman.
"It's a hard hit."