From The Ashes

Sisters Evelyn, left, and Amelia Quick look over the remains of the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park. Their mother Debra, right, says the girls grew up playing on that structure and was horrified that someone would deliberately set the playground on fire. Photo by Francis Crescia.

After an act of arson severely damaged High Park’s Jamie Bell Adventure Playground, Canadian Tire has stepped forward with $60,000 to help rebuild the popular wooden castle.

Following extensive media coverage and community outcry over the early morning March 17 fire, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was ecstatic when she received a call from a media organization that same weekend asking her how she felt about Canadian Tire pledging $60,000 to rebuild the playground.

It was the first time she heard of the donation.

“For a company to step forward like that to help the community, to help the city, it really says something,” Doucette said. “It was just amazing.”

The park is located near the entrance to High Park at Parkside Drive and was built in 1998 by community volunteers with money from the city and from fundraising.

The fire occurred during the early hours of St. Patrick’s Day. Police received a call at 2:53 a.m. reporting a fire in the Parkside Drive and Spring Road area.

They arrived to find the large wooden play structure on fire. It suffered significant damage, although the total dollar estimate is yet to be determined.

Nearby resident Robin Sorys, who initially helped build the park as a member of the High Park Citizens Advisory Committee, said she was horrified to hear of the vandalism.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I woke up Saturday morning and put on whatever the station was, and there it was … I was so upset.”

She said she was only more disheartened when she saw the damage for herself.

“I wanted to see if it really was as bad as what I saw on the news,” she said. “And of course it was.”

Sorys recalls the total cost for the park’s construction to be around $250,000, but said the actual value is higher because they didn’t pay for labour.

Canadian Tire spokesperson Sarah Van Lange said the company wanted to get involved in the initiative as soon as they heard about it.

“We take pride in being active members of the community in neighbourhoods across Canada, so this is a natural extension of some of the community initiatives that we do,” she said.

The initial sum pledged was $50,000, but two store managers also contributed an additional $5,000 each from money collected from the city-mandated five cent fee on plastic bags.

The $50,000 will come from the Canadian Tire Jumpstart national charity.

It’s yet to be determined if the $50,000 will cover the total cost of rebuilding the park. It will largely depend on how much of the playground needs to be torn down and rebuilt, considering it is made of wood.

“Once they’ve assessed how much needs to go down, then we can give a value for rebuilding,” Doucette said. “That’s what we’re working on now.”

People who want to donate to the rebuilding project can do so athttp://www.torontoparksandtrees.org/catalog/.

Update: On March 23, Toronto Police arrested 19-year-old Christian Kupiecki in connection with the arson. He has been charged with one count each of arson and attempting to obstruct justice. He is due to appear in court May 1.

http://mytowncrier.ca/from-the-ashes.html

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