Alma College caught fire on May 28 2008. The fire was suspicious in nature. The smoke could be seen as far away as downtown London, Ontario. Shortly after the fire began the main building was completely engulfed. A significant amount of video coverage of the fire is available due to a rally by Arthur Voaden Secondary School to save the building which took place shortly before the fire. After the fire, Both a municipal and provincial investigation was commenced immediately.
The fire took place shortly after the Ontario Municipal Board issued a final order that approved its demolition. Just prior the time of the fire local residents met with officials of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office in hopes of postponing an eventual demolition. Local response was swift to place blame on Ontario minister of Culture, Aileen Carroll at the time for not working hard enough to protect the building from demolition. Recent documentation has been released through the freedom of information act a month after the fire. This indicated a report from the Ontario Heritage Trust board addressed to the ministry of culture.
The report outlined that the ministry should ensure that should Alma fall under the threat of demolition or alteration that would compromise the heritage character, integrity and attributes of the property, that it would be appropriate for the minister to designate Alma College using the powers prescribed under the Ontario heritage Act to protect the building. At the time of the fire the building was completely open and exposed to numerous fire hazards. Timber members within the structure had no fire protection and numerous broken windows allowed a proper flow of ventilation only to encourage the fire. The main school building was destroyed by fire. An investigation by the St Thomas city fire department found the blaze, which began in the building’s rear stairwell, was the result of arson. The music building and chapel were not destroyed immediately by the fire. The response to the fire was fast enough that the local fire department was able to save the music building. However weathering, vandalism, and neglect continue to further damaging the surviving structures since the fire. After the fire the remaining shell of the main building was torn down due to safety considerations by the municipal government of the city of St Thomas. Shortly after the fire two boys were arrested and charged with arson. The identity of both boys (aged 14 and 15 at the time of the fire) can’t be revealed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The trial occurred on August 10-13 and September 2-3 2009. In a ruling on September 24 2009, the two boys were found guilty of arson and sentenced to 240 hours of community service and 2 years parole.
After the fire a short speech was given at the Ontario legislature by speaker Steve Peters after the fire in memory of the building and loss to the culture of his home riding. The main building toped Heritages Canada’s list for worst losses in 2008.