After the Fire

2 November 2014 – After Hallowe’en as well, but I want to pay tribute.

A year ago, late October, I showed you this picture of a particularly stylish Hallowe’en display in front of one of the Victorian Cabbagetown homes on Spruce St.

Hallowe'en display, 2013

The ghost with a sleek raven a-top his head was just part of the total effect. The other part: this elegant lady, in suitably 19th-c. attire.

2013 Hallowe'en display

This year, the raven is not so sleek.

In fact, he is very much the worse for wear — more than can be explained by the dark, drizzling weather on October 31.

2014, raven & ghost

And that’s because, about a month ago, this home suffered a devastating fire.

The blaze was contained to that one home, thank goodness, but it caused havoc there, and the house is still boarded up. Nobody expected the owners — creative people, involved with musical as well as visual arts — to mount any kind of Hallowe’en display.

But they did.

2014, boards over fire-gutted windows

They painted the fire scene onto the boards over the windows, added jumping figures & a horrified black cat.

They dragged their ruined musical instruments onto the lawn, and made them part of the tableau.

2014, post-fire piano & bass

The once-elegant 19th-c. lady now presides over the ruined instruments.

2014 Hallowe'en tableau

Come close, you see what sufficient heat does to a piano keyboard.

keyboard of the fire-ruined piano

Passers-by stop as I’m taking these photos, obviously neighbours.

Like me, they admire the grace & courage of this couple; several also suggest the display is cathartic as well —  a way to confront the tragedy, and move from merely suffering its losses, to transforming those losses into additional resources for their celebration of life and community.

I think that’s probably true.

But I also saw this little side-tableau, tucked at the far end of the ruined keyboard.

the 'curl up & die' moment

For me, it reads — amid all the courage, style and resilience — as a scene of pure pain. An acknowledgment that, just for a moment, they wanted to “curl up & die.”

And then they got up, and they coped.


Leave a comment


  1. What a lovely photo/essay! Congratulations, Penny.

  2. Such a powerful message! the instruments scream of art, something I would’ve never thought possible, they’ve managed to unfold a whole story in a dramatically expressive way through what others would have considered refuse.
    Each piece is art in its pure form, you have brought it to our attention & given it life through your words too!
    Well done 🙂

  3. A beautiful message after such a torturous happening… I am so sad for them. And yet, their strength, even through their pain, is astounding. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I’ve actually waited overnight to respond to this because it was almost disturbing to me! It’s very sad, but also kind of scary and even creepy from the outside (i.e., with no knowledge of the house or its occupants before). What I am not equivocal about are your fantastic writing and photos; you’ve taken a sad scene and added understanding and hope.

    • I understand and respect your ambivalence. The Barbie doll bits especially (including ones jumping from windows in the scenes painted on the boards). Yet ultimately my emotion was one of admiration, and people on the street felt it that was also — taking something that happened to them, and turning it into something they made happen. Moving from passive to active is important.

  5. As usual you bring alive your neighbourhood. I agree with others and you about the resilience of these people. One wants to help them but they seem to have found a way of coping. They must be very strong people.
    Liked your photos which always add another dimension to your interesting prose

    • I don’t even know them by sight let alone name, but I am struck at the impact this display has had on the street. Everyone seems to feel a deeper message, and be moved and respectful and wish them well.

  6. What an amazing story! Thanks for adding your thoughtful interpretation though because it is quite shocking.

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