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FIRE DESTROYS CANOE CLUB BOATHOUSE REPAIRMAN AT CRYSTAL BEACH FACILITY FACES ARSON CHARGE

The Buffalo Canoe Club boathouse in Crystal Beach, Ont., a popular and historic recreational site for Canadians and Americans, was destroyed Monday by a fire that officials said was set intentionally by a club repairman.

Club officials called the fire a tragedy, not only because the 82-year-old building was destroyed, but also because an irreplaceable birch canoe built for the City of Quebec's 300th anniversary celebration in 1908 also was destroyed by the flames.

"It's devastating," said club Commodore Eugene V. Leslie. "It was a landmark in the area."

Police estimated damage at $500,000 to the building and $100,000 to its contents. Leslie said the building was insured and officials hope to rebuild it before the summer season.

The fire began about 9:30 a.m., and -- fanned by strong winds off Lake Erie -- quickly spread throughout the 5,000-square-foot, two-story building.

The employee suspected of setting the fire, Barry M. Schneider, 30, of 3969 Michener Road, Fort Erie, Ont., was charged with arson.

The boathouse is built over Lake Erie, about 300 feet off the shore along Erie Road in Crystal Beach. The facility served as a storehouse for sailboat masts and also housed the club's meeting and party rooms.

But at the time, the only boat in the building was the birch canoe that was made for Quebec's anniversary. It had been used by the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visits to Quebec.

The boat was donated to the Buffalo Canoe Club in 1914 by Hugh McLane, the club commodore at the time.

The boathouse was built in 1908. It replaced another building that was destroyed by a storm the previous year.

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