By Peter Small
A first of two fires that struck a 19th-Century house on Maitland St. over a year ago was deliberately set, according to a newly released report.
The Confidential Fire Investigation Report by the Ontario Fire Marshal lists the cause of the fire as “Incendiary – Arson – intentional.” The report was released to the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association last week after it was requested more than a year ago under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The 150-year-old house at 34 Maitland St. was set alight in the late afternoon of Oct. 8, 2020, five months after it had been nominated for heritage designation.
Toronto police at 51 Division are still investigating the arson and there are as yet no suspects. said Const. Edward Parks.
Hazelview Properties, which manages the site for the owners -- listed on tax records as TC Core GP Inc. and TCR 208 Equities Inc. – did not respond to requests for comment.
This fire was followed three months later -- in the early hours of Jan. 16, 2021 -- by a second fire. Soon after the second fire, engineers and the city of Toronto deemed the three-storey building structurally unsafe, Hazelview Properties said at the time. The owners tore it down in April, 2021.
The first fire broke out just two days after the Architecture Conservancy of Ontario featured research stating that the Second Empire house was at risk. The vacant property had been subject at times to city work orders.
“There are two separate and simultaneously burning fires associated with this incident,” according to the Fire Marshal’s report, conducted by investigator James Gillespie.
The fire was intentionally set by matches or a lighter in two separate rooms, one on the first floor and the other on the second floor, according to the report.
The main floor blaze was set in a room that was empty of furniture except for an upright piano, the report says.
“The ignition sequence was the intentional application of an open flame to a combustible material intentionally introduced into the room,” the investigator wrote.
On the second floor, someone set fire to clothing piled, along with paper, in a corner, the report says.
Adam Wynne, a local historian who nominated the house for heritage designation, said he is both concerned and disheartened by the fact that the fire was deliberately set. This makes him all the more curious about the cause of the second fire, he said.
Police say they are not investigating the second blaze. The Toronto fire department, which looked into it, could not determine a cause.
“I hope that we don’t see more acts of arson in the Church-Wellesley Village or elsewhere in Toronto,” Wynne said.
The arson is one of several blazes in historic houses in downtown Toronto in recent years. The building, constructed in either 1867 or 1870, is one of the first properties built on the north side of Maitland, according to Wynne’s research.
It is the former residence of George Smith Holmested (1841-1928) -- a prominent barrister and member of the administration of Osgoode Hall -- in addition to being the home of several other notables, Wynne found.
It has been “vacant for several years and is under increased and/or imminent risk of demolition due to an increasing number of intensive redevelopment projects in the surrounding area,” Wynne wrote in his nomination.
However, city staff rejected the building for heritage designation.
According to city documents, Timbercreek Asset Management, now Hazelview Properties, which had charge of the house, declared as early as 2016 that the property “is not, nor will it be, occupied and is being considered for demolition.”
The Fire Investigation Report can be downloaded here.