On October 4, 2022, the City of Toronto opened three designated Sacred Fire sites for First Nations, Inuit and Métis community members at the following parks: Allan Gardens, Christie Pits Park and Norwood Park. These sites were selected based on engagement with Indigenous community members and leaders, who identified a need for these sites in these areas. Additional sites are planned for the future.
Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have used Sacred Fires for wellness, healing and gatherings. Just as some people gather in churches, temples, mosques or synagogues, Indigenous ceremonies happen on the land. Fire is a sacred gift from the Creator, as well as a doorway of communication with the Spirit world, ancestors and Creation and is an important part of many ceremonies.
The creation of designated Sacred Fire sites builds upon the work being done by the City with Indigenous community members to further enhance access to land for ceremony. In 2021, Toronto City Council approved City By-law amendments to create a new classification for fees associated with cultural fires, including Sacred Fires. This was brought forward by way of a Report for Action by Toronto Fire Services (TFS) in consultation with the Indigenous Affairs Office (IAO) and with Indigenous communities. By creating a category for open air burnings related to cultural or religious ceremonies or events, TFS is able to administer approvals as required under the Ontario Fire Code and ensure fire safety while recognizing the importance of Indigenous Sacred Fires in Indigenous culture, as well as the cultural and religious rights of other equity-seeking communities wishing to conduct an open-air burn as part of a cultural or religious practice, ceremony, or event.
Designated Sacred Fires sites will be inspected by TFS once a year to ensure the safety of the sites, as required by the Ontario Fire Code. Indigenous community members may continue to hold Sacred Fires at undesignated sites by contacting the IAO or TFS, who will ensure staff are engaged to perform safety inspections.
Each location has an Indigenous site facilitator from the community, who came together to serve as an advisory circle for the development of the Sacred Fire sites. They have met with City staff to select the locations, advised on what materials are needed on-site and help raise awareness of these sites in their communities. Site facilitators will be available to support community members as they begin to access the sites, and will continue as a circle to support ongoing engagement and refinement of the Sacred Fire process.
Due to the spiritual nature of Sacred Fires, permission from the Elder or Fire Keeper is required to film or photograph any element of a ceremony. If showing footage of a Sacred Fire ceremony, it is good practice to indicate in the coverage that permission was granted by the Elder and/or Fire Keeper to capture and show the footage.
The creation of designated Sacred Fire sites in City parks supports Action 15 of the City’s Reconciliation Action Plan, which addresses the need to reduce barriers for Indigenous People accessing Sacred Fires. These designated sites are also supported by articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report.
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