Toronto is reeling from a “heartbreaking” loss after a fire destroys a historic church and rare paintings
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Toronto is reeling from a “heartbreaking” loss after a fire destroys a historic church and rare paintings

A massive fire at a historic Toronto church destroyed rare artifacts, but police have not yet considered the blaze suspicious.

St. Anglican Church Anny on Gladstone Avenue in Toronto reported a fire just before 8 a.m. Sunday. According to the deputy chief of the local fire brigade, the church and all the objects in it were “completely destroyed.”

The artifacts included murals painted by three members of Group of Seven, a Canadian art collective. It was too early to determine the “cause, origin and circumstances” of the fire, Sean Driscoll, a spokesman for the Office of the Fire Marshal, said in an email to CBC News.

Because the cause remains unknown, the fire “is not considered suspicious at this time,” Shannon Eames, a Toronto police spokeswoman, told CBC News.

Community members and art experts across Canada are mourning the “heartbreaking” loss of a church and unique works of art by members of the Group of Seven and other prominent Canadian artists.

The Lost in the Fire works depicted the Old Testament prophets, Christmas and the Crucifixion and were created by J. E. H. MacDonald, Fred Varley and Franklin Carmichael.

St. Anglican Church Anny is located in the Little Portugal neighborhood of Toronto and was built in 1907–1908. The church was designated a National Historic Site in 1996 and was also designated by the City of Toronto under the Ontario Heritage Act of 1980.

“Honestly, it breaks my heart to come here and see such a church” – “Global News” quoted the words of the parish priest of St. Anna, Don Beyers’ father, when he visited the damaged church on Monday.

“I almost felt sick when I saw it,” he said, adding that church members were “extremely hurt and sad.” He called the loss both “devastating” and “heartbreaking.”

Beyers said the community not only lost a place of worship, rituals and holiday celebrations, but also “Canadian art at its best.”

“It’s almost hard to describe how beautiful these pieces were and how rare they were. As far as I know, it was the only work of religious art ever created by the Group of Seven,” Beyers said.

CP24 quoted Davenport City Councilor Alejandra Bravo as saying: “It’s something we can’t replace in Canada or the world, but it’s much more than just a building. It was a place that provided support, home, love, brought people together in the community, met the needs of people who needed it and provided the spiritual support that people needed so much in a time when they were also going through hard times.

“Davenport has lost something that can never be replaced, and the grief expressed by people in our office is overwhelming.”

Ms. Bravo called the loss “too great to comprehend.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said: “But the spirit of this place – how much they feel for everyone around it – will still be there.”

Parks Canada, Directory of Federal Heritage Designations, said the “series of paintings” at St. Paul’s Anglican Church Anny combined “narrative scenes, written texts, as well as decorative plasters and details that emphasized the architectural lines of the building” and was “a manifestation of the Arts and Crafts movement that sought to combine architecture with the sister arts of painting and sculpture.”

The national agency noted that the works referred “to the motifs, colors and artistic conventions of Byzantine art and (were) an integral part of the architectural style of the church.”

According to CBC News, over the past two and a half years, fires have destroyed 33 churches across the country, with many cases confirmed to be arson.