Rupert Hotel Fire 1989 - What has Changed?
December 20, 2018 Housing
This Sunday December 23rd is the 29th anniversary of the Rupert Hotel Fire that took ten lives.
The Rupert was located at 182 Parliament Street in Toronto. It was once an upscale hotel, but by 1989, the Rupert, while licensed, was overcrowded and badly maintained.
Housing Worker Michael Shapcott who knew many of the people who lived in the building at Queen and Parliament Sts. was there that night.
“It really was like a vision out of hell — to be there and to see this and to hear the screams and cries of people as they were shouting out for their friends,” Shapcott (pictured to the right speaking at a 2010 Memorial), told the Toronto Star years later.
The alarms had been disabled, the separation doors weren't there, and fire extinguishers were stored in the basement.
After the fire, for a time, there was a focus on making improvements to rooming houses.
With help from the province, Toronto created or upgraded about 500 units of housing that met or exceeded the already existing standards. In Hamilton, a 1994 Joint Report issued by the City of Hamilton and the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth brought some immediate changes.
But efforts at more reform and appropriate recommendations ceased in both Toronto and Hamilton and around the province as funding disappeared and interest waned.
Conditions in rooming houses are not improving. Decision makers seem more interested in prohibiting rooming houses than improving them.
Meanwhile there are more fires.
London had one this week in the Blackfriars area. Two people were injured and others lost most of their possessions.
In Toronto in May, Helen Guo, an 18 year old University of Toronto student, died and another student was seriously burned in a rooming house fire in Scarborough. The owners have been charged with nine counts of arson by negligence and one count each of criminal negligence causing death, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
It is alleged the owners were negligent in providing proper fire protection and safety at the home that they own and operate as a rental property, and that this directly led to their tenant’s death and serious burns to another.
Also in Toronto, owners of the former Waverly hotel plead guilty to numerous fire code violations. They had received approval for demolition three years ago. However, an unknown number of the hotel's 63 units have remained occupied. Fire code violations were found in inspections from 2013-17. The owners chose not to deal with the violations
“Had there been a fire in this building, with these occupants, with these types of continued uncorrected violations, there’s no doubt in our mind, (there would) certainly be serious injuries, if not fatalities,” Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop told CP24 in June. Jessop said the violations were similar to the ones that caused the Rupert Hotel fire.
Loss of Units and Move to Suburbs
New research by a former Hamilton outreach worker has documented the significant loss of single occupancy licensed units in large cities across North America,
Emily Paradis in a report identifies loses of 50% and more. http://www.pnlt.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Saving_Room_Nov2018_executive_summary.pdf
For example, Halifax had 151 licensed units in 1997 but by 2016 had only 54 units. Toronto has dropped from 500–412 units.
University of Toronto Adjunct Professor Philippa Campsie has done extensive research on rooming houses. Regarding Toronto’s situation Ms. Campsie wrote earlier this year:
“The pace of redevelopment in the downtown core (and the soaring value of downtown land) threatens older buildings that serve as rooming houses. Many have already been demolished over the past 20 years, and more demolitions are on the horizon; rental housing protection acts do not apply to rooming houses.
Meanwhile, the conversion of rooming houses to boutique hotels in the downtown core has erased many of the establishments where roomers once lived.” http://neighbourhoodchange.ca/documents/2018/04/campsie-toronto-rooming-houses.pdf
Roomers are relocating in the suburbs and living in illegal unlicensed rooms with the risks that go with such accommodation. Modern buildings present one risk.
Many materials in houses today are made of plastics and synthetics,
“They burn faster, they burn hotter and they give off a lot more toxic smoke,” Ryan Betts, of the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office told Global News after a Hamilton house fire in 2016. In fact, recent studies show typical house fires of today burn up to eight times faster than they did 50 years ago.
In conclusion, this type of housing continues to be a significant source of affordable housing for a growing population of singles. It needs to be safe.
Rupert Hotel 1989