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Enterprise, N.W.T., family faces delays, hurdles rebuilding after wildfire

November 24, 2023
By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Genevieve and Elwyn Clarke lost their family’s seven-bedroom home when a wildfire tore through Enterprise, N.W.T., in August. They say their road to rebuilding is paved with delays and hurdles in accessing help.

The Clarkes used to live at 515 Birch Street, on the western edge of the hamlet’s small residential area. The fire came from that direction, travelling east at a speed firefighters said they had never seen before.

Elwyn, a carpenter, expanded their home over the years to make room for the growing Clarke family. Now, the lot is empty but for the building’s mangled and melted remains.

“I don’t know that I have pictures of my studio,” said Genevieve, a longtime painter.


“I don’t even have a decent picture of our house. I never thought to take a picture.”

Genevieve lost the paintings that were her life’s work. Elwyn lost most of his tools. Heirlooms and photos are gone, as is the last painting made by Mé​tis artist Don Cardinal before he died in 1985.

“We were storing it at our place for his daughter,” said Genevieve.

“There aren’t really any words,” said one of the couple’s daughters, Andrea.

“My childhood bedroom there still had photos on the wall. I had one of my little sister when she was about 12, standing in a garbage dump, holding a flower. That’s gone. There are no other copies of that.”

When the couple first learned they had lost their home while evacuated down south, they were optimistic about rebuilding.

A meeting in late September changed their outlook.

At a meeting of territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) officials, hamlet councillors and around 20 Enterprise residents who lost their homes, the Clarkes learned that disaster relief for uninsured people would be determined “on a case-by-case basis, if they meet extraordinary circumstances,” Genevieve recalled.

She says residents at the meeting never learned what, exactly, “extraordinary circumstances” would mean.

“There were a lot of upset people,” said Genevieve. “There was one group that actually walked out.”

What qualifies for disaster relief?

The N.W.T. government, through MACA, has a disaster assistance program designed to help individuals, businesses and community governments after events like wildfires.

Support from that program “is generally not available where a property was insured or insurable,” according to MACA’s website. “Disaster assistance may be available to the uninsured in exceptional circumstances.”

If you don’t have insurance, that last line can cause considerable uncertainty.

Homeowners without insurance “may not be eligible for disaster assistance unless there is evidence that insurance was not readily and reasonably available,” clarified MACA spokesperson Jay Boast by email.

The department will consider “a determination that insurance was too cost-prohibitive to obtain in the circumstances” when assessing whether insurance was reasonably available, Boast added.

The Clarkes say they couldn’t get home insurance because their main source of heat was a wood-burning stove and the couple couldn’t afford to use propane full-time.

Insurers are usually more cautious about insuring homes with wood-burning stoves, given they involve an open flame inside the house. Because Enterprise is on a trucked water system and without a full-time fire department, the Clarkes say they were ultimately denied coverage.

Genevieve says she still has no idea whether their claim will qualify.

The family has spent the past few months staying with daughter Andrea in Hay River, waiting to learn their fate. Will they qualify for disaster relief or not?

“MACA anticipates being in a position to confirm eligibility by early January,” Boast told Cabin Radio.

“These timelines are subject to MACA receiving all of the required information from impacted residents, and the time needed by Public Safety Canada for its review,” he continued, referring to the federal agency that provides most of the cash offered through the N.W.T.’s disaster assistance.

The Clarkes thought they had previously been told to expect a decision by the end of November. Ultimately, they said, they weren’t sure of the timeline ahead of them.

If the answer to the Clarkes is no and insurance is out of the picture, Boast said there “may be non-government organizations or financial institutions who may be able to support” the family.

“I had in my mind, all the time we were out, that we would be able to rebuild – that we’d be able to go home,” said Genevieve. “To have this process where I don’t know, and I’m waiting and waiting? It’s just frustrating.”

The Clarkes hope to secure funding for a three-bedroom modular home, which they say would be large enough to at least adequately host their six children and nine grandchildren in Enterprise. They estimate that would cost around $300,000 to purchase.

Even if they are approved for disaster relief, the couple’s understanding of the program is that they need to fund 10 per cent of their claim. The maximum claim the program will cover is $240,000. Genevieve said her understanding is that the government would cover 50 per cent of any claim over that amount, leaving residents to cover the other 50 per cent, though the policy doesn’t expressly state that.

According to the policy, “the maximum assistance payable to private sector recipients shall be $240,000 after exclusions and limitations have been applied.”

By Genevieve’s estimation, to secure a three-bedroom modular home, the couple needs to find $51,000. The family recently launched a GoFundMe page to help find that cash, which had reached $3,000 of the $51,000 target by Friday.

“I don’t know where I’m going to find those funds,” said Genevieve. “That’s why we’ve done a GoFundMe, because we raised six kids on mainly a single-income family … we just don’t have the credit.”

“These are an older couple who’ve lost everything they built over their entire lives and they’re just trying to get a tiny bit back,” said Andrea. “We’re trying whatever we can to get them home again.”

As time ticks on, residents will come up against territorial deadlines at which some supports will come to an end.

The N.W.T. government says it is currently paying to house 13 families affected by this summer’s wildfires. People who were renting in Enterprise before the fire destroyed their homes say they have been told government-provided housing will stop being offered at the end of November.

Homeowners have until January 15, 2024 to make use of temporary government housing. After that, the GNWT “will work with those individuals directly on future plans and possible support options,” Boast said by email.

“I at least have a house that I don’t have to worry about moving out of in the near future. I can stay as long as it takes,” said Genevieve of her place at her daughter’s Hay River home. “I’ve talked to a few other residents that are worried.”

“I’m just living on faith that it’ll come through and it’ll work out,” she concluded.

“Just to clarify, that’s faith in the Lord, not MACA.”

Simona Rosenfield is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Cabin Radio.

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