J.E.H. MacDonald’s Crucifixion from St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto. The work was destroyed when the church went up in flames June 9.

Invaluable Group of Seven works lost in church blaze

The only church to feature artwork by members of the famed Group of Seven Canadian artists burned to the ground, taking with it the stunning murals on its walls and dome.

St. Anne’s Anglican Church in downtown Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood was destroyed by a Sunday morning fire June 9. Fire officials are investigating how the four-alarm blaze started, though the Toronto Fire Department said that day “the fire has not been deemed criminal in nature yet.” The Ontario Fire Marshal and Toronto police are continuing to investigate as of the Register’s press deadline.

The historic church on Gladstone Avenue housed early paintings by three members of the Group of Seven that were installed in the 1920s. The murals decorated the chancel and the dome of the church, which was built in 1907-08 and designated a national historic site in 1996. The invaluable works were claimed by the flames, as was the church itself.

The murals were rare in that the Group of Seven’s work was predominantly focused on nature and the Canadian landscape.

The church commissioned J.E.H. MacDonald in 1923 to oversee the works depicting the life of Jesus on the church’s interior. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven, signed on nine other artists to help with the project, including Group of Seven members Franklin Carmichael and Frederick Varley.

Though the walls remain intact, the dome of the church collapsed and buried everything within with rubble. Pastor Rev. Don Beyers has already vowed that the church “will rise from the ashes stronger and even more committed to be a church for all people.”

In a message posted to the parish website the day following the fire, Beyers assured his congregation that “yesterday’s fire was not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a new chapter.” He continued, “…life always emerges out of death. In truth, that is the heart of the Christian story. Death never has the final word… We continue on as a church and we will remain a parish community for all.”

He said he is meeting with the diocesan leadership team to determine where the community will continue to worship all while beginning the work of rebuilding the church.

A GoFundMe campaign has already begun, with a goal of raising $1 million, and within two days had already raised $3,000.

A prayer vigil was held June 11 outside the church.

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