Port Sydney, Ont.
THERE'S A GAP in the heart of the village of Port Sydney, in Muskoka, north of Toronto. The tiny community boasts a general store, a restaurant and a beautiful beach, as well as a historic dam and a fine old meeting hall. In summer its population swells with tourists, and in the off-season, it's a sleepy little hamlet known for its community spirit and old-fashioned winter carnival. But there's something missing.
Opposite the general store, on the shores of Mary Lake, a red brick rectory masks the vacant lot where Muskoka's oldest church once stood. On the morning of July 5, Christ Church Anglican, an exquisite and beloved little building of hand-hewn pine, burned to the ground, leaving nothing but the lych gate and a few tombstones.
Port Sydney made the national newspapers, and the faces of the grief-stricken congregation appeared on television the following Sunday as they worshiped in the community hall, amid a flurry of reporters and broadcasters.
Initially, it was suspected that faulty wiring was the cause of the blaze, but in September, Ontario Provincial Police charged a 17-year-old Port Sydney boy with setting the fire. While the boy's identity is protected under the Young Offenders' Act, his name is no secret in the village. Shortly after the teenager was taken into custody, the local Huntsville Forester printed two letters of apology from the boy's parents, signed: "Mother and father of a young offender."
The mother's letter detailed the boy's troubled background and his experience being bullied at school. She described making the decision to turn him in.
"I have written all this not as an excuse, because there can be no justification for such terrible things, but in the hope that Come may understand a little of his life," she wrote. "To my extreme surprise, people who know have been genuinely sincere, sympathetic and supportive. I thank you all and I apologize to all. I am so, so sorry."
The father, in his letter, describes his shock and sorrow, ending with the hope that "God will see to it that some good comes of it."
Five months later, the story is old news, but its effect on the community, the boy and his family will be felt for a long time.
The good that comes of devastation is most often seen in the strength shown by its survivors, for grievous losses have been suffered on all sides. A single act has shattered a family and reduced a church to ashes, but the signs of renewal are not difficult to find.
"The congregation has been amazing," said Rev. Marguerite Rea, the rector. "The fire was at 3 a.m., and at 2 p.m. on the same day they went ahead with their strawberry tea at the community hall." Sympathy and support have poured in from across the country, Ms. Rea said. The church was insured, and money has been raised through a dinner and auction in August and an ongoing "Phoenix fund." Rebuilding plans are well under way.
"Don't forget we're a `sea of grey'," said church warden Norm Gurr. …