One year later, staff and firefighters remember Toronto racquet-club blaze

One year later, staff and firefighters remember Toronto racquet-club blaze
By Molly Hayes
The Globe and Mail
Link to article: One year later, staff and firefighters remember Toronto racquet-club blaze

The Globe and Mail

One year after a fire destroyed part of Toronto's historic Badminton and Racquet Club, members and staff of the midtown institution gathered to thank emergency responders for their efforts that day.

The fire took 19 million litres of water to put out, Deputy Fire Chief Tony Bavota recalled on Wednesday, as the club marked the first anniversary of the fire.

Deputy Chief Bavota, the former fire chief in Burlington, Ont., had started with Toronto Fire Services just a week earlier, and joked that the event gave him "a whole new level of understanding of the phrase 'baptism by fire.'"

Outside the charred remnants of the building's east side at Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue West – a former TTC streetcar barn dating back to the 1800s, which prominent Toronto executive Lieutenant-Colonel George Gooderham Blackstock bought in 1924 and turned into a badminton club – staff and members gathered with Deputy Chief Bavota and other emergency responders.

At the time of the fire, the club (commonly referred to as the B&R) had more than 2,500 members. The club's website says it has attracted people who "were among the elite of Toronto business and social life."

The facility included badminton, tennis, squash and platform tennis courts as well as a fitness centre and several lounges – parts of which had just been renovated before the fire.

The fire department said last year that the cost of damage in the fire exceeded $1-million.

The east side of the building had to be demolished, but the west side was saved, and after a renovation, will reopen next week with limited facilities.

Club president Karen Wallace said on Wednesday that construction to rebuild the east side is expected to take 18 months. She said members raised funds for employees who were out of work during the renovations.

Wednesday was a rare and emotional opportunity for first responders to revisit the scene of such a destructive fire and reflect on the work it took to minimize the destruction.

It was the first time in Deputy Chief Bavota's career that crews had to burst into units in a neighbouring condo building to get a better angle to fight the fire. Members of Toronto Paramedic Services braced to treat any injuries – although there were none.

City councillor Josh Matlow, whose ward includes the club, on Wednesday recalled a "surreal" scene, and praised the city's emergency services for their joint effort.

"We often talk about how our bureaucracies don't work well together in this city, and sometimes that's … true," Mr. Matlow said. "But when it comes to an emergency, everyone comes together. And they did that day, so efficiently and so well, and in so many cases, heroically.

"I saw pictures that day of our firefighters in the condo next door, literally feet away from the fire, holding their hoses … not a single life was lost. That heroism should never go without gratitude."

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