Historic Toronto Church Gutted by Fire

Historic Toronto Church Gutted by Fire

A four-alarm blaze Sunday morning engulfed historic St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto, Canada, with police now working to determine the cause of the conflagration that has been added to the growing list of church fires being recorded across the country.

The much-venerated place of worship has been hailed as a national historic site that contained the “priceless” works of “prominent Canadian artists” including the Group of Seven, the Toronto Sun reports.

The news outlet records, “Toronto Police said on X at about 8 a.m. that they had received reports of a fire at the church on Gladstone Ave., west of downtown, and that windows were breaking and heavy smoke was coming from the building.”

Senior reporter Joe Warmington was on the scene soon after and recorded what transpired before sharing on X – formerly known as Twitter:

Toronto Fire also said on X some adjoining buildings had been evacuated as a “safety precaution, according to the Sun report.

“Main body of fire knocked down with crews extinguishing spot fires,” the fire service’s own X account posted just before 10 a.m. “No injuries. Expect crews and traffic to remain on scene. Avoid the area where possible.”

Video was soon made available to show how the fire took hold in the church that has proudly stood for over 100 years.

Police and associated investigators are now “engaged” to determine the cause of the blaze, with no timeline on how long the investigation will take, Toronto Fire spokesperson Capt. Deepak Chagger said.

Rev. Don Beyers, a parish priest at the church, told CBC News 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.

The 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, according to CBC.

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.”

CBC in January reported a steep rise in church fires nationally with at least 33 Canadian churches having been burned to the ground since May 2021. So far, 24 are confirmed arsons.

Toronto police have set up an online portal where the public can submit any photos or videos that may help assist investigators. It can be found here.