Historic church gutted by weekend fire trying to regroup

A parish priest from a century-old Toronto church gutted by a weekend fire says his community is trying to regroup by holding services this Sunday in a nearby hall and by continuing to host its community dinner.

Rev. Don Beyers, of St. Anne's Anglican Church, said on Wednesday that services will be held in Parish Hall, a building on its campus, even though there is currently no power. For the community dinner, the church will hand out sandwiches outside to feed people in need, he said, adding that it normally offers a sit-down meal.

Despite the fire, Beyers said the church is committed to working with the Dufferin Grove and Davenport community to serve its congregation.

The church and hall were built so that the heat system in the hall provided heat to the church and the church provided power to the hall, he said.

"When the fire took place, that naturally knocked out the power to the hall. Right now, we're working with officials to get power set up for this hall. In the meantime, we'll probably be using generators," he said, adding that a number of local organizations use the building.

As for the investigation into the fire, Beyers said it is continuing and most of the water has been removed from the church, which housed early paintings by three Group of Seven members.

"The immensity of the destruction in there is hard to believe," he said.

A drone image of the aftermath of St Anne's Anglican Church fire. Toronto firefighters are dousing hotspots in this photo. The historic church was destroyed by fire on June 9, 2024.
This drone image shows the aftermath of a weekend fire at St. Anne's Anglican Church. Toronto firefighters are dousing hotspots in this photo. The historic church was destroyed by fire on June 9, 2024. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Toronto police have said the fire isn't considered suspicious.

"We continue to interview witnesses and review video from the surrounding area," police said in an email on Wednesday.

Officials haven't yet released a cost estimate for the damage. The blaze destroyed the building's dome and caused heavy damage to the rest of the Byzantine-style church that was built in the early 1900s. No injuries were reported.

On Thursday, Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal said it remains on the scene investigating the cause, origin and circumstances of the fire, and there is no update to report.

Toronto Fire Services was first alerted to the fire at 7:55 a.m. on Sunday. At its peak, the fire was four-alarm. It was brought under control by 11:50 a.m.

Plans to sell Parish Hall on hold, priest says

Beyers said the church had planned to sell Parish Hall because it is old, it isn't accessible and it's approaching the end of its lifespan. They had hoped to sell to a developer that would build mixed-income housing. But that plan is now on hold as the church figures out how to move forward, he said.

"The hall is becoming a place where we can continue our ministry at this time," Beyers said. "For us, this is going to be an important place in the coming weeks and months and probably years as well. Right now, this just means we have to pivot."

The situation has made clear to the St. Anne's community that the destroyed church was much more than a building.

"It's scary at first, for me and for the congregation, to say: 'We just lost not just a beautiful building, but a place that we could do a lot in.' But what it's revealed is that our work is not just limited to space."

St. Anne's Parish Hall
A view of St. Anne's Anglican Church Parish Hall, where the church will hold services on Sunday following the fire. (CBC)

Annemieke Wade, executive director of Roseneath Theatre, said the group has both office and rehearsal space in the  hall.

"We see a lot of emerging artists and established artists working in our space to create the theatre that you guys see on our stages every year. Without access to a space like a rehearsal hall, the community is again at risk of not being able to produce in an affordable manner," Wade said.

"We do hope to get the space back for the coming months."

Online fundraiser aims to raise $1M

Meanwhile, a member of the choir at St. Anne's has started an online fundraiser for the church that aims to raise $1 million in donations.

Isabella Favaro said in the fundraising appeal that all donations will go to St. Anne's to help rebuild the church, replace choir instruments and music lost in the blaze and help arrange interim facilities for services.