Yacht club hit by fire carries on ‘al fresco’

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A six-alarm fire may have destroyed Toronto’sIsland Yacht Club’s 52-year-old clubhouse, but some 300 members carried on this summer with the usual roster of sailraces, tennis games and social events.

“The members have really rallied well,” says Commodore Bruce Bussin. “There’s an enormous feeling of regrouping and refocusing. Our members have shown enormous spirit and commitment to restoring the facility.”

Just days after the June 20 fire, which police say was accidentally set by a youth, members gathered for a “town meeting” to discuss reconstruction plans and temporary arrangements to keep the club afloat during the summer. Trailers with showers and rest-rooms were temporarily installed on the grounds, and food service tents were erected to replace the clubhouse dining facilities. Bussin says the first social event after the fire, held al fresco, was the club’s most successful.

“So many people attended we ran out of food,” he says. “It was a great event.”

The Commodore’s Ball, an annual formal affair, was re-dubbed this year the Commodore’s Beach Ball and held in the dining tents.

Bussin says the club was fortunate that the docks, pool and tennis courts were not damaged in the fire. The club’s popular junior sailing lessons and supervised playground program were held this year. Visiting boaters were welcomed, and encouraged to dock at the club’s facility.

Some events were postponed, including a charity event for the Starlight Foundation, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for seriously ill children.

“One of the saddest things to me was that we had to announced the charity event was canceled,” says Bussin. “We just couldn’t put things back together in time.”

But the members agreed to host the event on another date. Bussin says 50 sick children and their families went out sailing with members.

“It made me feel the best I’ve felt since the fire,” Bussin says.

Bussin says there was an outpouring of support from the surrounding Toronto area, as clubs and other organizations offered use of their facilities. But members agreed to host all their events at the clubhouse site as a show of solidarity and support, says Bussin. He says he even received a letter from a man in Rhode Island, who had visited the clubhouse years ago.

Plans are already under way to rebuild the facility. Members have formed several committees to oversee reconstruction and to deal with the insurance and other financial arrangements. Bussin says the club received 35 written submissions from architects.

“We’ll rebuild the club bigger and better,” says Bussin.

Though the club members are hopeful that a new building will be completed in time for the 2005 boating season, Bussin says it is not likely.

The clubhouse — on Mugg’s Island, across the harbor from downtown Toronto — was built half-a-century ago to accommodate the area’s Jewish sailors who were barred from other yacht clubs at the time. IYC is a family-oriented club that offers Monday night racing and a full cruising schedule.

A 13-year-old boy has been charged with arson, damage to property and three counts of mischief, including one of endangering life. Toronto police say the boy was behind the clubhouse with some other children. He was lighting materials that had blown off a cottonwood tree, and accidentally set fire to the building.

The blaze spread quickly, despite sailing instructors trying to put the fire out with extinguishers.

Toronto firefighters were hampered in their efforts because of the lack of access to the island. Firetrucks from across the city crowded Queen’s Quay as fire-fighters boarded small boats. The island has a water supply but a fireboat was also called in. About 100 firefighters were at the scene.

Strong winds fueled the fire, sending thick, black smoke eastward. The fire was brought under control by 8 p.m. but the charred remains continued to smolder, with occasional flare-ups over the next day or so. All that remained was the frame of the one-story wooden building.

No club or staff members were harmed, but four firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze. One firefighter was taken to an area hospital and treated for burns to the side of his face and neck.

Several trailers parked behind the clubhouse were also damaged. www.iyc.on.can