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Ward's Island residents in Toronto grieving after fire destroys clubhouse

A neighbor of a beloved Toronto Islands clubhouse and cafe says the community will need time to process the loss after a fire destroyed that community hub over the weekend.The Toronto skyline is shown on June 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

TORONTO — Residents on the Toronto Islands are processing a significant loss after a fire destroyed a beloved clubhouse and café over the weekend. 

A fire broke out at the Ward's Island Association Clubhouse around 2 a.m. on Sunday and gutted the building that also housed a popular café. 

Anne Barber, who lives nearby, said she pulled open her curtains at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday and saw the clubhouse had turned into a black hole of ashes and smoke. 

"It just took hold and was a very devastatingly fast fire," she said in a phone interview.  

"I feel like we're still in that kind of phase of going between wonderful memories and heartbreaking loss. What are we gonna do ... it's kind of a bit unfathomable, really."

Barber said the local community will need time to grieve and process the loss of the clubhouse that hosted many memorable events, including weddings and parties. 

"Honestly, people were so in shock, myself included, because we've spent so many hours in the building," she said. 

"I'm just thinking what will we do this year? Will we put up a tent? What about all the weddings that are booked there?"

Toronto Fire Deputy Chief Larry Cocco said a team of investigators is on scene looking into the origin and cause of the fire. 

"Due to the extent of damage and to allow the team to conduct the investigation safely, as you see behind me, there's heavy equipment being utilized to help the investigators go through the scene quadrant by quadrant," Cocco said from Ward's Island on Monday.

Ward's Island is one of several islands that make up Toronto Island Park and is a residential part of the islands.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said she would work with the community and their local councillor on next steps. 

"Islanders are resilient," Chow wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "The Ward's Island Clubhouse and Café were the heart of the community and a meeting point for visitors—and they will be again."

Barber said the clubhouse was not only a local hub but also a landmark that welcomed visitors to the islands every summer. 

"It's so central, get off the boat, you look straight ahead and there it is. It's always been there," she said.  "People would just get off the boat ,walk straight into the café and be welcomed."

She said she is sure the clubhouse and café on Ward's Island will be rebuilt. 

"I have no doubt it will rise from the ashes," she said. "But it also feels like that's a phenomenal hill to climb at the moment."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2024.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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