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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Blogging The Blaze: The Queen West Fire

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photo by Johnny Madden

I saw the movie Cloverfield the weekend it came out. I’m a bit of a sucker for movies that show major metropolitan cities being destroyed. Just like in Cloverfield, real-life disasters — like the fire of Queen West yesterday — are being experienced by the general public in a whole new way these days: through the lens of amateur digital photography and video.

The mainstream media have traditionally dominated this type of news story, but nowadays the status of newspapers and TV stations has been reduced to a much smaller role because of hundreds, if not thousands, of other sources available for the public to consume.

As I walked through the Queen West fire scene yesterday, I noticed there were more photographers scurrying about than any other type of person (ie. sidewalk gawkers, firemen, police). A quick search of “Queen West fire” on the photo-sharing web site Flickr reveals over 500 photos, a number of them stunning. A few videos come up on Technorati including BlogTO’s raw video footage.

While the event was tragic for the tenants, land owners and retail stores, some amazing photos from the blaze were captured. Below, Spacing showcases some of the best, thanks to the photographers, with links to each of their collections.

Photo by Wylie Poon

See fire photos by Martin Reis

See fire photos by Greg Bolton

See fire photos by Anil Kanji

See fire photos by David Pritchard

See fire photos by Jon Lasiuk

See fire photos by Joyce

See fire photos by Taxing

See fire photos by Wylie Poon



  1. Hipsters ahoy!

    All this talk of the changing face of news media but no more than the most perfunctory acknowledgment of the, you know, downside to the whole thing? How about the way in which this changes the “art” of rubbernecking?

    I mean, I myself participated and yet can’t help feeling a little guilty. Luckily nobody lost their lives, but livelihoods were lost and the site of this loss was treated as fodder for a kind of unofficial, unannounced competition. It’d be a bit tired to say this new fangled approach to tragedy is lessening our ability to feel compassion blah blah blah…but maybe there’s a hint of that?

  2. Oliver

    Those were feelings I had too when writing this post. I didn’t want to minimalize the disaster but also didn’t want to overhype my sociological observation.

    I don’t think there is less compassion, though. I think becuz we can see, so vividly, the destruction we may even have more compassion. I’d like to think that.

  3. Yeah, those thoughts were definitely going through my head as I was taking my photos; I was torn between being enthusiastic at the great photo op, and lamenting the loss to our neighbourhood, and the people more intimately affected. It had me wondering, not for the first time, how those photographers who capture tragedy on a “regular” basis, like war photographers, deal with it. Not something I could handle.

  4. THe on-line community totally outclassed the regular media (and their online editions) in providing images and words that were diverse, compassionate, and up to date. It really helped me understand the scope of this disaster.

  5. As one of the shutterbugs, I’d have to agree with Matthew (while still absolutely respecting Oliver’s observation). I felt more connected to the scene, because taking photos made me want to walk around, talk to people, and so on.

    As well, because I posted to Flickr, my non-TO friends got hold of it in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I was able to tell them about how lousy it was that little stores got dusted and might well be replaced by chain stores. It sparked a good little dialogue.

    But either way, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. I think this is just how we live now.

  6. This media release just came in from the City:

    Media Advisory

    February 21, 2008

    Queen Street Fire Fund established to assist people affected by fire

    In response to the major fire on Queen Street yesterday, a trust fund has been established to collect donations to assist residents who have been affected by the fire. Donations can be made to the Queen Street Fire Fund at all Scotiabank locations across the city effective tomorrow.

    “There has been an outpouring of support to help people affected by the fire, from people in the neighbourhood and across the city,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina). “I would like to offer my sincere thanks to everyone who has offered assistance to these residents in their time of need.”

    For further information, please contact:
    Councillor Adam Vaughan, 416-392-4044
    Ward 20 – Trinity Spadina

  7. It almost felt I was paying my respects yesterday as I snapped my pictures. And there is something to be said for bearing witness to an event: the more it is documented, the greater a presence it will have in the public consciousness and the social memory. This fire won’t be easily forgotten, and our pictures are one of the reasons for that.

    I also feel like my taking pictures yesterday was my way of sending a message to the victims and the public that what happened yesterday mattered. It was also a way to hold on to, to capture in a physical sense, a piece of the city that mattered to me before it disappears altogether.

    The act of photographing something means different things to different people, and that meaning changes depending on the situation.

    Strangely, I feel a sense of loss any time the face of the city changes–a building is torn down or redeveloped, a business closes its doors and is replaced by another. What I find really disturbing in these cases is the way that all evidence of these places ever existing is so easily erased, and how difficult it is for me to remember what once was when the new structure or business is in place.

    There was something comforting about knowing that that were so many people around this time who weren’t going to let this change go unnoticed. It’s too bad that it took a six alarm fire for that to happen.

  8. On the Fri noon news, there was a request from the police/investigators for images of the fires to help assess the spread/origins. While the cops with their billion should probably be able to figure out there’s this website here, etc., all of the “voyeur” activity can become helpful, as it’s clear the firefighters are pre-occupied with their good work. So consider sharing.

  9. Press Release – Meeting announcements for Queen Street fire victims

    Toronto, February 22, 2008 – Councillor Adam Vaughan announced two meetings that will be held for property owners and residents that have been affected by the Queen Street fire.

    These are private meetings that are to provide information and access to assistance for residents, businesses, property owners and employees. The meetings will be closed to the press. Individuals planning to attend either meeting are asked to contact Councillor Vaughan’s office at 416-392-4044 or

    Meeting for Queen Street business & property owners

    Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2008
    Time: 12:30 p.m.
    Location: The Burroughes Building, First Floor, 639 Queen Street West

    Councillor Vaughan invites businesses and property owners affected by the fire to this meeting to discuss next steps and rebuilding. For the properties between 607 and 633 Queen St. W., information will be available from Toronto Buildings, Heritage, and Planning departments about rebuilding.

    Meeting for Queen and Richmond Street residents

    Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2008
    Time: 7:00 p.m.
    Location: Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave (one block north of Queen)

    Councillor Vaughan is hosting this meeting of residents on Queen Street and Richmond Street that have been affected by the fire, to help co-ordinate assistance efforts. Information will be available about accessing housing, clothing, furniture, financial assistance, insurance, and any other assistance you may need.

    For further information, please contact:
    Councillor Adam Vaughan, 416-392-4044,

  10. Congratulations with the nice shots, each one of them. Sorry for the inconvinience for all those who got hurt by the fire