fire at historic St. Anne's church in Toronto

Fire destroys historic St. Anne’s Church in four-alarm Toronto blaze

A four-alarm fire burned through St. Anne’s Anglican Church early Sunday morning, destroying everything inside the 1908 Byzantine-style building. Toronto Fire and Toronto police were called to the scene on Gladstone Avenue, between College and Dundas Streets, in Little Portugal shortly before 8 a.m. after receiving reports of windows breaking and heavy smoke coming from the building.

No one was inside at the time of the fire, but the historic building was severely damaged. The church was filled with paintings from members of Canada’s legendary Group of Seven— a group of influential Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933. It is believed that about 18 murals of Jesus’ life (painted by three members of Canada’s Group of Seven) that lined the walls and ceilings of the church were likely reduced to rubble in the blaze.

“The artwork was priceless, the murals, beautiful murals that had covered, they basically looked at the life of Jesus and they were stunning,” Priest Don Beyers said in a press scrum in a nearby laneway from the now-destroyed building.

Beyers confirmed that no one was in the building.

“The church was locked, secure, all the lights were off the night before, so it’s a real mystery to us how this even happened.”

Toronto Fire hasn’t yet determined what caused the fire, where it originated, or if it’s suspicious, but the fire marshal’s office will be investigating in the coming days. In a press release, Toronto Police announced that they have opened an online portal where members of the public can upload videos or photos to assist investigators.

Due to the extensive damage to the building, fire officials told reporters that they don’t believe the structure will remain intact.

“Given the heat, given the age of the building, given the water volume, it is probable that we will have further collapses,” Deputy Chief/Director of Toronto Fire Services Jim Jessop said in the press scrum. “That is why we’ve moved our ariel devices within a safe collapse zone, and we’ve made sure that anybody that could be in that partial collapse zone  or in that collapse zone has been evacuated.”

Marit Stiles, who is Davenport’s Member of Provincial Parliament, also noted how the destroyed church will be a tremendous loss for the community.

St. Anne’s Anglican Church was founded in 1863. The church building—considered a National Historic Site of Canada—was redesigned in 1907–1908 in a Byzantine Revival style, which is unique for an Anglican church.

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