Christmas is just 11 short days away and because of the suspected arson fire that all but destroyed the historic Whitby All Saints' Anglican Church, 100 families may not have Christmas at all this year.
Crews were called to the scene when both the church's security company and a snow removal service reported the fire at about 4:55 am on Monday December 14, 2009. Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze and the area was cordoned off to all traffic, as the steeple was at risk of collapsing and the roof had already caved in.
The pastor of the church, Rev. Kenneth Davis arrived at the scene at 5:30 am and described the damage to CBC news.
"The worship space's roof is completely burned through and open, we can see the ribs of our historic building and of course many, many fire crews and police constables and a wide cordon around the building. They seem, thank God, to have been able to put out the flames and have been able to open some doors to enter the building, so we count that as a good sign that the worst of the fire is out. [The fire has done] a phenomenal amount of damage, we can only imagine what it looks like inside. It looks like the worship space is the place that has been involved and the north part of our building seems to have been spared, although of course there will be water and smoke damage."
Shawna Coulter, fire prevention officer with Whitby Fire and Emergency Services, confirmed the church suffered extensive damage.
The church has been a landmark in downtown Whitby since it was completed in 1866, and although two other buildings have been added to the site over the years, the brick church is the original structure, according to the church's website. It features a balcony inside, as well as a steeple standing about 100-feet high, which houses its main bell and a carillon, a set of stationary bells hung in the tower. During the last 10 years, the church has undergone significant repairs. Its first and second phases were finished in 1999 and included work to the church's foundation, its steeple structure and roof slates, and upgrades to its nave loft.
All Saints' church has occupied a place of prominence in the community ever since its construction. The loss of the church is expected to have an enormous impact on the Whitby community. Aside from the weekly services attended by the 250 families that count All Saints' as their spiritual home as well as the Marigold Montessori school that is housed there, nearly 100 needy families in the community were expecting Christmas baskets to be delivered today [Monday], as the church ran Whitby's only foodbank.
All Saints', well known for its beautiful stained-glass windows, has been the target of vandals in recent months with its front sign ripped off its hinges two weeks ago and about two months ago vandals heaved large chunks of concrete from a nearby construction spot through the church's front windows. (For a tour of All Saints' beautiful windows visit: http://www.allsaintswhitby.org/windex.php)
"There has been some suspicious evidence found at the scene," said Sgt. Nancy Van Rooy of the Durham Regional Police. "We're investigating the criminal element, specifically arson." Reports indicate emergency crews found a smashed window and gas canisters scattered nearby when they arrived at the fire.
Our hearts go out to the congregation of All Saints' who will not be able to attend Christmas Service at their home church, the children who have lost their school, and most of all to the families who won't be receiving a Christmas basket as expected from the church. We will be posting a blog on how to help just as soon as a system is in place. The Salvation Army is working on the problem now.