Man missing since fire is my stepson, woman says

A Thunder Bay, Ont., woman believes the caretaker missing since the devastating fire at the former Plaza Hotel in downtown Victoria is her stepson.

Audrey Draeger said Friday that Michael Draeger is the son of her late husband, Edmund Draeger, who died in September 2016. She was last in contact with Michael when she called to tell him that his father was seriously ill. They haven’t spoken since.

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“I often think of him,” she said Friday.

Michael is a “very nice” person who loves working with wood and fly-fishing, and owns an Airstream trailer.

He is a “loner type,” said Audrey, who learned of the fire after being contacted by the Times Colonist.

She said she has been worried about Michael for a long time, wondering how he was doing. After hearing of the fire, “I felt bad because now I don’t know if he is alive or dead.”

Victoria police have asked anyone knowing how to contact Michael Draeger to get in touch with them.

A former maintenance man at the hotel at the corner of Government Street and Pandora Avenue, Draeger became its caretaker after it closed in 2013.

He lived on the third floor and had a workshop in the basement, where he kept a collection of old carpentry tools, friends said. They fear that he might have perished in Monday’s blaze, which destroyed the building.

His Airstream trailer was parked in the alley by the hotel.

Audrey Draeger said her husband, Edmund, had been married previously and had a family.

His former wife has also died, she said.

She said she was married to Michael’s father for almost 20 years. The couple travelled to Victoria many years ago to visit Michael. “When I first met him, I was so excited to see him,” Audrey Draeger said. That was the only time they met in person.

She can’t recall if he was working at the hotel at that time, but remembers that he did jobs there and made improvements. “He sure loved doing that job.”

After their visit, Audrey and Michael kept in touch via email “all the time.” Every year, she would send him Christmas parcels including stollen bread, a traditional German fruit-filled bread. Her late husband was born in Germany, she said.

Michael would send her photographs of some of his projects, such as hand-carved posts. “It was beautiful work.”

Though he was raised in Thunder Bay, Audrey said she was unable to entice him to move back to Ontario.

He was very happy when he acquired the Airstream, she said. She would email him tips on how to fix it up and later sent him some money for trailer improvements. A man with a farm allowed Michael to live in his barn and store the trailer at one time, Audrey said.

Meanwhile, another Draeger said relatives are conferring to find out if the missing man might be a relative. Kevin Draeger, of Prince George, said he has been talking to family members in Saskatchewan who think Michael Draeger might be a cousin of his grandfather.

Those relatives are now searching through four suitcases of old family photographs to find an image.

Many members of the large Draeger family are in Saskatchewan, Kevin said — a family reunion three years ago attracted 1,096 people.

Audrey Draeger said she is not aware of any relatives in Saskatchewan.

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