Fire destroys historic St. Anne’s Anglican Church along with priceless artwork

Smoke and flames engulf St. Anne's Anglican Church in the June 9 fire that completely destroyed the historic church. Photo: Video still/B Dias via X
Published June 11, 2024

Toronto church housed religious murals by Group of Seven members

St. Anne’s Anglican Church in west Toronto, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, is no more—destroyed in a June 9 fire, along with artwork including murals of the only known religious art by members of the Group of Seven.

Firefighters responded just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning to a four-alarm blaze at St. Anne’s, located in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. Footage by local news showed black smoke and flames erupting through the church’s domed roof.

No injuries have been reported. The Rev. Don Beyers, rector at St. Anne’s, said no one was present in the building and that the church was locked and secured at the time of the fire. Toronto Fire Services is conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire, which it said could take weeks. As of June 10 police were saying the cause was unclear, but that the blaze was not considered suspicious.

St. Anne’s was a Byzantine Revival-style church built between 1907 and 1908. It housed murals, painted by three Canadian artists from the Group of Seven collective, that decorated the chancel and dome. The church commissioned Group of Seven member J.E.H MacDonald in 1923 to supervise the creation of art depicting the life of Christ in the building’s interior. In 1996 the federal government declared St. Anne’s a national historic site.

Beyers told CBC News the congregation was “greatly devastated” to learn about the fiery destruction of the church. He also expressed sadness at the loss of the artwork, noting that St. Anne’s had been the only church to feature art by Group of Seven members.

“While my heart is heavy, I have hope,” Beyers said in an open letter published on the parish website June 10. He said St. Anne’s would continue as a parish community and that in the following days he would consult with diocesan and parish leadership to determine where worship would take place as the congregation sought to rebuild.

“Yesterday’s fire was not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter,” Beyers added. “We will rise from the ashes stronger and even more committed to our mission to be a church for all people.”

In a letter to the Anglican diocese of Toronto published the same day, Bishop Andrew Asbil described St. Anne’s as “a jewel of our Church, with its priceless artwork, and architecture that allowed for glorious acoustics” as well as “a gathering place for the local community, for the arts world” and “a hub for generous and faithful outreach ministry.”

“Most importantly, for its vibrant worshipping community, it was home,” Asbil said. “And so, we grieve … All 200 congregations of the diocese of Toronto are with you, praying for you, and will walk with you through this next chapter in our life together.”

Speaking to reporters June 9, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow pointed to the perseverance of the St. Anne’s parishioners despite the loss of their building. “The spirit of the place … how they are so compassionate to everyone around them—will still be there,” Chow said in remarks reported by CTV News.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport where St. Anne’s is located, expressed condolences, but also hope. “This is going to be a tremendous loss for the community,” Stiles said. “But it’s not over, because we will rebuild.”

The Toronto Star reported that a private company will be commissioned to remove some of the burnt debris and reinforce the walls of the church. Dave Denysek, division commander of Toronto Fire Services, said fire marshalls typically work with city engineers and an insurance company to keep workers safe and preserve as much of the building as possible.

Author

  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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