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Firefighters battle blaze at historic Toronto church known for Group of Seven murals

Fire crews battled a four-alarm blaze that destroyed a historic church in Toronto on Sunday morning which contained murals painted by three members of the Group of Seven.

Dozens of firetrucks were dispatched to St. Anne’s Anglican Church on Gladstone Avenue near Dundas Street in the Little Portugal area at around 8 a.m.  to battle the fire.

“Upon arrival, our crews were met with heavy flame and smoke,” Toronto Fire Services deputy chief Jim Jessop told reporters.

“The fire was immediately escalated to a second, then a third, and we reached our maximum at a fourth alarm.”

He said that crews worked quickly to make sure the fire did not spread to nearby buildings.

It is thought that no one was inside the building as the doors were locked when fire crews reached the building at the time of arrival, according to Jessop.

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Fires destroys historic Toronto church known for Group of Seven murals

According to the church’s website, it was built in 1907-08 in the Byzantine Revival style and was declared a historic site in 1996.

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“It was most famous for murals by three members of the Group of Seven,” Father Don Beyers said. “They were the only religious murals that they had.”

He told reporters on Sunday morning, “at this time it does look like it is a total and complete loss.”

He said the Anglican church will look to continue to serve the area.

“We will rise from this,” he said. “We will come back stronger and we have every intention of continuing to serve this great community.”

The three members of the Group of 7 — J.E.H. MacDonald, Fred Varley and Frank Carmichael — were part of a group that were commissioned to paint and decorate the church.

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Bobby Diaz, who lives across the street from the church, told Global News that he woke up to a smoke-filled apartment on Sunday morning.

“At first I thought it was from the festival, but then the whole apartment was filled,” he said. “And then I stepped out to our main west facing window and saw the whole entire church starting to burn.”

Diaz said he visited the church last year and admired the artwork that had been done by prominent Canadian painters.

“To see such a beautiful building like this, it’s really heartbreaking to see it burn down,” he said.

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