Downtown Kingston fire being ‘treated as arson’ as investigation continues

One week after fire threatened one of the oldest buildings in downtown Kingston, authorities have confirmed that arson is the suspected cause of the blaze.

The aftermath of a fire that broke out at the back of Modern Primitive on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in one of the tucked away gems of downtown Kingston. Photo by Peter McKenty.

At approximately 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, Kingston Fire and Rescue crews responded to the 100 block of Princess Street following a 9-1-1 call reporting that Rochleau House – the limestone building that stands at 70-72 Princess Street – was on fire.

The building, possibly the oldest building still standing in the downtown core, has served as home to the storefront of Modern Primitive – a small business specializing in imported jewelry, textiles, and home goods – for over 20 years. However, the history of the building and the adjacent Rochleau Court (the alleyway between Modern Primitive and The Toucan, which gives way to the outdoor dining area for Chez Piggy before forking off to two smaller alleyways) dates back to the early 1800s – 1808, to be exact, which was the year the L-shaped two-storey stone building erected by François-Xavier Rocheleau was completed (it is unclear when and why the spelling was changed to Rochleau). The building, now a heritage property, was later occupied as an office by two of the Fathers of Confederation, John A. Macdonald and Alexander Campbell. More information on the history of the building, which, along with 68 Princess Street and 346-352 King Street East make up what is known as Rochleau Property, can be found here.

The fire, which seemingly began at the back of the building, spread quickly to the roof of the building, however, the rapid response of Kingston Fire and Rescue saw the fire knocked down within a few hours. While Modern Primitive and its neighbour, Amanda’s House of Elegance, were forced to close for the day, both The Toucan and Chez Piggy were able to open for lunch service that day, according to Kingston Fire and Rescue.

Two days later, on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, Kingston Fire and Rescue confirmed that there had been no occupants inside the building at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported by members of the public or firefighters. Fire Inspector Delbert Blakney explained that, upon arrival, Kingston Fire and Rescue crews “found a tarp structure on fire at the rear of a building with extension into a retail establishment on the first floor and a vacant apartment on the second floor.”

Blakney also stated just days after the incident that the cause of the fire was “a source external to the building,” noting that the specific cause remained under investigation. The Fire Inspector also disclosed that the cost of damages caused by the fire was estimated at $300,000.

On social media, both Modern Primitive and Amanda’s House of Elegance have expressed gratitude for the outpouring of community support since the incident occurred.

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in response to inquiries from Kingstonist, Kingston Fire and Rescue confirmed that, while the case remained under investigation, it had now been turned over to Kingston Police. Detective David Wein confirmed the case is now being in the hands of Kingston Police, and that the investigation remains ongoing.

“It is being treated as an arson,” Wein said, noting that police do not have a specific suspect at this time.

“A court order has been requested to obtain CCTV in the area.”

As the investigation continues, anyone with information on the incident, or anyone who may have footage of the area (personal, surveillance video, or otherwise) is asked to contact Det. Wein at 613-549-4660 ext. 6198, or via email at [email protected].

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