Fire Tears Through Historic Church In Toronto's West End, Destroying Group Of Seven Artworks | CBC News

Toronto

Historic church, artwork ‘completely destroyed’ in blaze: fire chiefA historic church in Toronto’s west end has been ‘completely destroyed,’ along with the artifacts it housed, says the city’s fire chief, as firefighters plan to remain on scene overnight Sunday to monitor the situation.

No reports of injuries at fire inside Toronto church housing Group of Seven artworksCBC News

· Posted: Jun 09, 2024 9:14 AM EDT | Last Updated: 3 hours ago

An aerial view of the aftermath of the fire at St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto. The historic church was destroyed by fire on Sunday. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News)A historic church in Toronto’s west end has been “completely destroyed,” along with the artifacts it housed, says the city’s fire chief, as firefighters plan to remain on scene overnight Sunday to monitor the situation.

Toronto Fire said crews received report of a fire inside St. Anne’s Anglican Church, on Gladstone Avenue near Dundas Street West, just before 8 a.m.

In an update Sunday evening, Toronto Fire said it will remain overnight at the church for fire watch, to assess hot spots and check what’s left under the rubble. 

It said the Ontario Fire Marshal and Toronto police are expected to be back at the church Monday to investigate.

“The fire has not been deemed criminal in nature yet,” it said. 

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop said the building is “completely destroyed” as are all the artifacts inside.

“This is a devastating loss for the community,” Jessop told reporters at the scene.

Gladstone Avenue is closed between College and Dundas streets as crews work to bring the blaze under control. Police are advising motorists and pedestrians to use alternate routes. 

Rev. Don Beyers, a parish priest at the church, says the congregation is “greatly devastated,” to learn about the fire damage.

“I’m crushed, I feel for my people. You can’t imagine what this is like for a church community to come on Sunday morning to find that everything you worked so hard for and done so much for [is] gone in the matter of an hour,” Beyers said outside the building Sunday. 

“Despite this terrible tragedy and loss, we as a church will continue on,” he said.

Residents devastated, artwork destroyedThe church, built in 1907-1908 in the city’s Little Portugal neighbourhood, houses early paintings by three Group of Seven artists that were installed in the church in the 1920s. The murals decorated the chancel and the dome, which was destroyed by the blaze.

Beyers said the “invaluable” works were lost to the flames.

“The artwork was priceless. It was murals, beautiful murals,” he said. “They were stunning.

“This was the only church that featured artwork by members of the Group of Seven. And I’m sorry to say that’s been lost, from what I can see.”

A leaky roof at Toronto’s St. Anne’s Anglican Church needed a $1-million repair in 2020. The fire on Sunday, which ravaged the historic church, destroyed the art on the ceiling that members of Canada’s Group of Seven had contributed to. (The National/CBC Archives)The church was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996. In 1980, the City of Toronto also designated the church under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The St. Anne’s website said the church in 1923 commissioned founding Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald to oversee designs depicting the life of Christ on the building’s interior. MacDonald then signed on nine other artists, including Franklin Carmichael and Frederick Varley.

Toronto Fire Services spokesperson Deepak Chagger confirmed the loss, saying there’s no indication that anything was saved at this point.

​Coun. Alejandra Bravo, who represents the ward where the building sits, said residents are expressing “tremendous” grief over the destruction of a space that offered critical community support.

“This is much more than just a building. This is a place that has provided support, a home, love, brought people from the
community together,” she said.

‘Real mystery’ how fire started: priestJessop said the fire was deep-seated when crews first arrived at the scene Sunday morning. 

As flames began to shoot through the roof, firefighters pulled out due to the risk it would collapse. Crews extinguished the main body of the fire by mid-morning, Jessop said. 

“Nobody was here, the church was locked, secure, all the lights were off,” Beyers said, adding that he is often the first person there in the mornings. “It’s a real mystery to us how this even happened.”

Police said they received reports of windows breaking and heavy smoke coming from the building. Water towers and crews were set up for exterior firefighting operations, they said earlier Sunday morning.

WATCH | St. Anne’s was designated as a national historic site of Canada: 

Historic Toronto church holding valuable artwork gutted by fireA four-alarm fire has largely destroyed the historic St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. The flames also destroyed valuable paintings inside, including the only known religious artwork made by the Group of Seven.

Adjoining homes were evacuated as a safety precaution and have been protected from the blaze, Jessop said.

There are no reports of occupants inside the church or injuries.

Do West Fest still on: organizersThe organizers of Do West Fest, a street festival in Little Portugal that stretches from Ossington Avenue to Lansdowne Avenue on Dundas Street West, initially said it will have a delayed start on Sunday due to the fire at St. Anne’s, just steps away from the festival. 

“Our first concern was for the safety of our community, and everyone at the festival’s devastated, [the church] is such an important community landmark,” said festival organizer Kristyn Gelfand.

“We’re trying to work out the logistics with police and fire and entire emergency response teams to make sure we give them space to do the work that they need to do.”

The festival will still be running until 6 p.m. on Sunday, organizers later said.

Church fire is now at a 4-Alarm. Some adjoining buildings have been evacuated as a safety precaution. Main body of fire knocked down with crews extinguishing spot fires. No injuries. Expect crews and traffic to remain on scene. Avoid the area where possible. ^dc pic.twitter.com/qiBhLVwOI5

—@Toronto_FireWith files from The Canadian Press

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