The Children’s Storefront soon-to-be new storefront. Photo by Nancy Paiva/Torontoist.
On a chilly autumn morning last November, the air still fouled by the stench of charred debris, Roona Maloney, Executive Director of the Children’s Storefront, stood on the sidewalk across from 1079 Bathurst Street and stared in disbelief at the burnt-out shell of a building. Until a fire early on Halloween morning, this had been the address of a much-cherished family resource centre. For decades, tots and parents had gathered at the Children’s Storefront, enjoying time together in a unique, unstructured play environment. Now all that remained was a gutted ruin.
Since 1975, the Children’s Storefront had offered free services accessible to families with young children residing in the Annex neighbourhood. It was the kind of place where adults who had attended the centre years ago as youngsters now sat on the not-for-profit’s board. Except for a few photographs, the flames had consumed everything.
It seemed things couldn’t get worse—until they did. While subduing the blaze, a member of the Toronto Fire Service was injured, the result of a fall down a smoke-clogged flight of stairs. (The firefighter was treated at the hospital and released.) Compounding the scale of the tragedy, the lifeless body of fifty-year-old Marie Speck, who resided in an apartment above the centre, was discovered during the cleanup; fellow tenants reported that prior to being overcome, Speck managed to alert others to the spreading flames, ultimately losing her own life in the process of saving others.
Damage to the property was so extensive, upon completion of the fire marshal’s investigation, the building had to be razed.
Sometimes tragedy brings out the best in a community. Considering the progress the Children’s Storefront has made since that early morning fire, it is hard to believe those terrible events unfolded just seven months ago. In that time, the community has rallied. From parents to board members, to members of the community and local businesses, all joined forces to ensure the Children’s Storefront would rise again.
So the Storefront could continue providing services uninterrupted, soon after the fire, St. Alban’s Boys’ and Girls’ Club generously made space available at their Palmerston Avenue location. Already accustomed to hosting fundraising events, the Storefront was now fundraising for its very survival. Only weeks after the fire, the first of many successful fundraisers was held. Beside cash donations, individuals and families donated much needed items, including toys and books. Next up, the business community: Capital One contributed forty thousand dollars, and also promised to match all future cash donations up to that amount.
Thanks to an outpouring, the Storefront’s future is hopeful. The space at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club was only meant as a temporary fix. Over the phone, Maloney told us that everyone, including the children, was anxious to move into a space of their own. As of May 7, that became a reality, and the Children’s Storefront officially took possession of its new home at 826 Bloor Street West.
Though the former location will be missed, the new location on the northeast corner of Bloor and Shaw will offer services the former could not. These include a spacious indoor play area, as well as a community kitchen. (Among other things, participants will learn about food canning and baby food preparation.) As for the overall site itself, the architectural firm, AGATHOM Co. will provide design assistance, pro bono, designing a floor plan that will maximize use of space.
Much work remains to be done before the Children’s Storefront is up and operational. According to Roona Maloney, that will not happen for another six to eight weeks. With the knowledge that an entire community is behind it, it won’t be long before the Children’s Storefront has risen anew.