A fire roared through the Rupert Hotel, a rundown rooming house in downtown Toronto’s east end, on December 23, 1989. When the rubble was cleared, ten bodies had been found, making it the worse rooming house fire in the history of Toronto. Every year, a group gathers at Queen and Parliament Streets to remember the ten who died and, in their memory, to re-commit themselves to the struggle for safe, healthy and affordable homes for all.
Michael Shapcott, the Wellesley Institute’s Director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation, was a community worker in the neighbourhood in the late 1980s, and visited the residents of the Rupert a number of times. He lived nearby and was on the scene the night of the fire, and provided a vivid description in a Toronto Star interview. Michael went on to serve as Co-ordinator of the Rupert Pilot Project, an innovative plan to create homes for 525 people who were termed “hardest to house”. The Rupert project was completed three years later on time and under budget.
While the positive legacy of the Rupert fire was the successful pilot project, there are still thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of people living in substandard, unlicensed and potentially dangerous rooming houses throughout Toronto. A plan to bring in a uniform city bylaw that would legalize rooming houses throughout the city and require their owners to meet minimum health and safety standards was put on hold by Toronto City Council in the spring of 2010, and it could remain in limbo for months or years to come.
The photos below are from the December 16, 2010, Rupert Memorial and include the Full Circle Band; Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (who was a city councillor at the time of the Rupert fire); and Cheri DiNovo, Ontario MPP (who has proposed legislation to create healthy and inclusive neighbourhoods).