By Bob Purcell

Five months ago the Island Yacht Club – one of three venerable sailing clubs on Toronto Island – lost its rustic half-century-old Clubhouse to a fire that never should have happened. Kids playing with matches ignited the fluff that falls from dogwood trees were just having fun, as Island kids had done since the pastoral properties were first developed in the mid-1800s.

The fire, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June, devastated the IYC’s primary facility on Mugg’s Island. And it devastated the club’s membership, too. But none of the club’s 130-plus yachts, protected by the prevailing west wind, were damaged. And no one was hurt, except for a handful of sterling firefighters who fought the blaze ferociously for nearly 24 hours before it was officially declared out.

Fighting a major fire, they would tell you, on an island with no road access, is a logistical challenge. The Toronto Fire Department’s fireboat, William Lyon Mackenzie, was quickly in place. And dozens of city-based firefighters were efficiently moved to the challenge by the Metro Toronto Police Department’s marine unit.

Sixty mature trees were also lost in the blaze. All of them have been removed, mulched and made into a wood-chip walking path for club members to enjoy.

But the IYC clubhouse, the heart of the club, is no longer. By this time next year, however, it will be back –- bigger, brighter and bolder than its cottage-like predecessor.

“The fire and its consequences were very sad for us,” said Cynthia Amsterdam, who has just been elected Commodore of the IYC. “And thank God no one was hurt. But we’ve turned that page and now our members are getting on with their lives.”

Immediately after the fire, IYC purchased a large, airy party tent as a surrogate clubhouse, and it has served its purpose well.

“The tent gave us all someplace to go, to assemble,” the diminutive lawyer said. “In fact, this whole experience, I feel, has brought our membership together like nothing before.”

Commodore Amsterdam keeps her cruising CS 34 sailboat at the IYC and regularly crews on a hotshot racing yacht at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.

The tent will continue as home base for IYC sailors and social members through most of next Summer. Plans are moving quickly apace for a brand-new clubhouse that will set the tone for the IYC’s resurrection by next September.

An IYC committee has selected Toronto architects Montgomery and Sisam from a six-firm shortlist to design the new Clubhouse. Commodore Amsterdam said their concept “will bring the outdoors inside” and make the new IYC facility a sparkling neighbour for the stately Queen City and Royal Canadian Yacht Clubs with which it shares the islands.

Toronto Waterfront Magazine will share sketches of the new IYC Clubhouse with you in our next edition in the New Year.