A local contractor has restored and reinforced the Woodbine Beach community fireplace – a piece of public art designed by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal which has been repeatedly vandalized over the last several months.
Unveiled during this year’s Winter Stations, “The Fire Place” is a curved cedar structure that acts as a shield from the wind and provides seating around a community fireplace.
The fireplace was intended to be fully accessible to the public. But earlier this year, after vandals tore off pieces of cedar from the artwork and burned them in the fire pit, Friends of Beaches Parks, the group in charge of the project, decided to lock the metal fire cage.
That didn’t stop people from continuing to pull off strips of cedar and burn them beside the fire pit, nor from defacing the inside of the structure with graffiti.
By the end of June, nearly half of the installation was gone and the community group enlisted the help of a local contractor to repair the damage.
Toronto Beach Rotary provided a grant to cover the cost of the reconstruction, while Danforth Lumber supplied the cedar at a discounted cost.
“I’ve been a contractor for many years, I grew up in the Beaches, so I obviously wanted to give something back and help out where I can, so this was a great opportunity for that,” said Scott Mifflin of Toronto Green Builders.
He said it took him two or three full days of work to source, prepare, and install the new cedar panels, which he charred in a way that honoured Cardinal’s intention, using the Japanese burning technique called Shou-Sugi-Ban.
“I did a little bit of research – a Japanese architect has developed a really modern technique of doing it, but it actually involves tying them together, lighting a fire, and letting them burn. It’s a real process. That’s what a lot of people do,” he said.
“This was more of an adaptation of that, because I obviously don’t have time, or a place to safely burn the wood like that, so I had to come up with another technique,” he said, explaining that he used a propane torch to burn the wood through from above.
Once the wood was ready, he and builder Mike Rousseau brought their supplies down to the beach and got to work installing the new panels.
They also nailed and glued more vertical strips along the structure so that it would be more difficult to kick the panels in.
“Just to give it a bit more strength,” he said.
Mifflin has worked on many restoration projects, but none in public in the middle of the beach. The team drove their truck out to the structure and were using small generators to power their tools.
“It was a unique experience, definitely,” he said.
He said he hopes that people start showing the artwork some respect – and appreciate that they have a place for a fire on the beach. Friends of Beaches Parks is encouraging people to bring their own wood to the fire pit – and leave wood for others to burn.
“Growing up here, you’d always want to have a fire on the beach here but you never could,” said Mifflin. “So now you have this and hopefully if people use this and respect it properly, then it should be something that people can enjoy for a long time.
“I don’t know who is doing it, obviously young kids get up to whatever mischief they’re going to get up to,” he said.
“You can come out here and have a fire with your friends, so maybe just bring your own wood, don’t destroy the thing that people obviously took a lot of time and care to build.”