Fire claims historic Manitowaning home

    A piece of Manitowaning history was lost to fire Saturday night. Assiginack firefighters worked feverishly to save the century home, but the blaze was too much and the house, which was under renovation by its owners, was completely lost. photo by Jacob Hallaert

    MANITOWANING—Manitoulin history was struck a terrible blow this weekend, sending a couple’s dreams of rejuvenating one of the Island’s oldest houses into a vibrant new life up in flames.

    Tammy Reynolds thought it was a very bad joke when she read a text from her son telling her the house they had been renovating since 2005 was on fire—but reality hit home hard when that text was followed up with another containing a photo. “Nothing is real until you see it, they say,” said Ms. Reynolds.

    Ms. Reynolds and her husband Steve currently live in Sudbury, but there was no point in rushing back to the Island when news of the fire reached them. “There really wasn’t anything we could do at that point,” she said, in a Monday interview. “They were still spraying the rubble this morning.”

    Rubble is all that was left of the historic home, as what remained of the brick shell was taken down by backhoe. “The people on site, fire department or fire marshal or whoever is in charge of that, decided that it was too much of a safety risk to not take it down, I guess,” said Ms. Reynolds.

    “We had no insurance on the house as the insurance companies would not cover us,” she explained. “The insurance company came out to inspect the building, but they said that (insurance) wasn’t happening.” In the end the Reynolds were only able to purchase liability insurance. “In case someone wandered onto the property and got hurt,” she said.

    The couple originally purchased the property in 2010, but “the house was not liveable when we bought it,” explained Ms. Reynolds. What followed were years of determined renovations and planning. The couple hoped to turn the historic house into a bed and breakfast.

    To add to the tragedy, the couple are not only facing a tremendous financial loss, but they are also facing the considerable cost of removing the remaining rubble from the site. Daniel Reynolds, one of the couple’s adult sons has set up a GoFundMe account to assist with that expense.

    Rebecca Smith is a long time family friend and is assisting with the fundraising efforts. It was Ms. Smith that first broke the news of the fire to the family. “Daniel and I have been best friends since we were 16,” said Ms. Smith. “I live directly across the street. I was asked to take photos and video to keep the family informed and did so all day until the fire was smoldering.”

    Assiginack firefighters work to keep the blaze at bay.
    photo by Joel Urban

    She has a different view when she looks out her window these days. “Now when I wake up, I see rubble and a broken house,” she said. “It’s hard, I know what was inside. I can’t help feeling that I didn’t do enough.”

    Among the items inside that home was the secretary desk of Ms. Reynold’s grandmother, her grandfather’s antique book collection and a host of irreplaceable items. “It had become the storage place for all of the things that we wanted to keep,” said Ms. Reynolds.

    Ms. Reynolds is no stranger to adversity, in 2009 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was declared cancer free after five years, and so far so good,” she said. Much of their retirement savings were eaten up during a year-long strike at Vale, where Mr. Reynolds is employed.

    “We are looking at maybe holding a benefit dance,” said Ms. Smith. “My friend has a lot of experience in setting that sort of thing up.”

    The house has considerable history for the Reynolds family and the community. “My sister rented it back in 1987-88,” said Ms. Reynolds. “Just about everyone in town has told me that they have family that rented that house at some time in the past.”

    The house figured prominently on the Manitowaning Historical Walking Tour and according to Assiginack Museum curator Kelsey Maguire, the house was originally built in 1897 by Methodist lay minister William Allen Beatty, and was an exact copy of his house in Kirkton, Ontario. Mr. Beatty became reeve of Assiginack in 1899. According to ‘A Time to Remember’ the house was sold to John and Janie Robbins, who retired there in 1933. It was the Robbins family who sold the land upon which the last two Assiginack Public Schools were built. Mr. Robbins passed in 1958.

    The tragedy could have been much worse, as the Reynolds’ daughter was scheduled to move into the house in a couple of weeks.

    Ms. Smith has issued a plea for those contractors or workmen on the Island with a little time and equipment to spare to get in touch with the family and lend a hand with the cleanup. “I know there are a lot of people my age who are now contractors and such who could help out,” she said.

    The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, Ms. Reynolds said that she believed the current theory is that the source was electrical in nature.

    Carol Gravelle, spokesperson for the Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management said that the cause of the fire was under investigation. “Samples have been collected and sent to the forensic centre to be analysed,” she said. “At this time there is no indication that the cause of the fire is or isn’t arson. The OFM is exploring all avenues.”

    The GoFundMe campaign can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/3omd77k.