Sheguiandah fire destroys a popular pot dispensary

A charred frame was all that remained of The Red Market in Sheguiandah First Nation after an overnight fire at one of its cannabis dispensaries. photo by Michael Erskine

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION – Shortly after the owner and staff of The Red Market had packed up their product and called it a day, disaster struck the popular cannabis dispensary as a fire quickly took hold in the building, eventually completely destroying the building. The owner is convinced that the blaze was no accident, but the cause of the blaze has not yet been determined.

The Northeast Town fire department and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service were dispatched to the blaze on Sheguiandah First Nation at 11:40 pm on July 21. The building was fully engulfed when they arrived, but by 2:30 am that morning it was all over but the investigation.

According to a release from the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office was called but did not attend to investigate the fire.

“This is what happens when you try to build something, to create better economic opportunities in your community,” said an embittered Fraser Whiteduck, who started the operation early late last year. “I had just promoted one of my workers and now this.”

The Red Market began life in a small trailer beside an empty house owned by Mr. Whiteduck’s aunt, but as profits grew the opportunity to restore the derelict building into a storefront operation saw the business installed in what was intended to be more permanent digs.

The building was not insured, however.

“No, I was just in the process of getting that done,” said the business owner, who noted that the process of obtaining business insurance includes a lot of hoops and paperwork.

Mr. Whiteduck is a trained chef whose ongoing health issues (Type I diabetes) forced him to step away from a career he loved as he could no longer endure the long hours standing in a hot kitchen. The dispensary concept came out of his own research into the health benefits of cannabis.

Although recreational uses of cannabis might be more front of mind for many, Mr. Whiteduck prefers to focus on the medicinal aspects of the plant. Before embarking on his new business, he put the same focus and energy into learning about the different strains and types of cannabis products he did while studying for his chef credentials. It was information he passed on to his ‘bud tenders.’ That attention to detail allowed the business to thrive despite being bracketed by competing operations on both sides.

“We were doing up to $2,000 a day in sales,” he said. Luckily, at the urging of his employees the company’s ‘combustible’ product was bundled up and removed from the building at the end of the business day before the fire.

Of Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee descent, Mr. Whiteduck learned about the challenges of building a career in First Nations’ trade.

“My father was one of the first people persecuted for the tobacco trade,” he told The Expositor during an interview in early January. “He had barns, conveyors and choppers and sold the tobacco for ceremonial and trade purposes.” Mr. Whiteduck’s father fought a long and costly battle before his rights to conduct his business were established, but he persevered. Mr. Whiteduck intends to follow that example through this latest adversity.

“This isn’t going to stop me,” said Mr. Whiteduck, declaring that he would rebuild.

The UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service continues to investigate the cause of the fire and anyone in the public who has any information is encouraged to call 1-888-377-7135 or, should they wish to remain anonymous, they can call Sudbury Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).