The Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre at 170 York Street in Napanee — home to the Lennox Agricultural Society and various sports and clubs, and formerly known as the Napanee & District Community Arena — was destroyed by fire overnight in what police call one of two suspicious fires in the area, according to a news release by the Lennox and Addington (L&A) County Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
On Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, at approximately 2:30 a.m., OPP officers and the Greater Napanee Fire Department responded to a report of a structure fire on York Street in Greater Napanee. No one was injured in the fire; however, the building is heavily damaged.
Police have closed York Street north of Bridge Street, and Thomas Street west of Simcoe Street, while the fire is being extinguished and investigated. Residents in the area were notified of the fire and recommended to leave as a precaution.
Greater Napanee’s new Deputy Fire Chief, James Feeney, spoke at the scene at about 8:50 a.m., saying, “We came out at about 2:40 this morning, with the assistance of Loyalist Township and Kingston Fire and Rescue. They brought up two elevated devices, one each, and we’ve been here ever since then.”
At the height of the fire, 36 fire and rescue staff battled the flames, according to Napanee Fire Chief Bill Hammond. The team from Station #1 Napanee suppressed the fire from the front of the arena on York Street and protected the Napanee and District Curling Club building next door. Kingston Fire and Rescue took the south side of the building, while Stone Mills worked on the north and Station #2 Roblin worked on the rear.
Run-off water was contained, according to the Chief, and all of the surrounding buildings, including the curling club and the historic storage barns (leftover airplane hangars from the First World War), were thankfully unharmed.
Families were evacuated from 20 neighbouring homes, Hammond noted.
Chesserie Savell, who lives directly across from the arena on York Street, said her husband woke “around 2 o’clock” and could smell smoke.
“He got up and looked out and he saw flames, and we started packing up everybody,” she recounted.
The family of seven was told by Emergency Services staff that they would indeed have to evacuate.
“The flames were huge,” said Savell. “We drove out… They told us we could, but I felt like it was dangerous when we pulled out, and I thought maybe we shouldn’t have because we had to back out [onto York Street] and go around the fire trucks.”
Savell said she and the family were thankful to get out of their home safely, “and the firefighters really did a good job putting [the fire] out.”
Some witnesses recalled hearing an explosion during the blaze.
Many onlookers at the scene commented on the loss of the building and the many memories it contained.
One woman noted that she remembered seeing the same building destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, while it was still under construction. Others remarked on their years playing hockey and indoor soccer at the building, calling the destruction a “real loss” for the community.
“I practically lived there growing up,” said a man on the sidewalk discussing the loss with neighbours.
Cathy MacDonald plays pickleball at the old arena three days a week.
“I’m simply heartbroken,” she said. “I went to see it with my own eyes this morning and I broke down in tears… The Napanee Pickleball Club was not just a club for exercise; we are a family, and all of us are in complete shock.”
The 224 Napanee Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps also operated out of the building, as did Discoball Events until recently.
In a strange turn of events, also in the early morning hours, L&A County OPP and the Stone Mills Fire Department responded to a fire at a residence in Stone Mills Township. No one was injured; however, Kingstonist has confirmed that the fire occurred at the home of the Lennox Agricultural Society’s secretary-treasurer. A garage and vehicle were destroyed in the blaze.
An investigation is ongoing by the L&A County OPP in conjunction with the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal, who arrived on the scene of the York Street blaze at about 2 p.m. Monday.
Investigators are asking anyone who lives in the area of the agricultural building and who may have home surveillance cameras or Dash camera video to upload a copy of their footage taken between 1:30 and 3 a.m. Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, using this secure evidence submission portal.
Police are seeking the public’s assistance. Anyone with information concerning the fires is asked to contact the Lennox and Addington County OPP at 1-888-310-1122. Those who wish to remain anonymous may submit a tip to Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-8477(TIPS) or online at crimestoppers.ca.
This is a developing story with more to come.