Vandals snuff out Banting House Flame of Hope

The Banting House Flame of Hope. File photo supplied by Banting House.

Just two days after vandals snuffed out the Banting House Flame of Hope, damage to the monument is being assessed with optimism the flame will burn brightly again soon.

Museum Curator Grant Maltman received the call that the flame had been extinguished around 11 p.m. on Saturday night after someone reported smelling natural gas in the area.

“When I got there I noticed the flame was out and had been for a while as [the monument] wasn’t overly hot,” said Maltman. “It was at that point that we found a number of items had been stuffed into the bowl of the flame and caused it to go out.”

The items included a number of small metal objects such as door hinges.

“It was disheartening,” said Maltman. “This is a symbol for the 11 million Canadians with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the 400 million-plus people around the world who are affected by diabetes. It was lit on July 7, 1989 by the Queen Mother as a symbol of hope in the battle against diabetes and to have it extinguished in this senseless act is frustrating, to say the least.”

The Queen Mother at the lighting of the Flame of Hope, July 7, 1989. Photo courtesy of Banting House.

The Queen Mother at the lighting of the Flame of Hope, July 7, 1989. Photo courtesy of Banting House.

Leading up to Saturday night’s incident, Maltman said he had noticed a recent increase in the amount of charred debris laying around the flame, which sits 12 ft off the ground. He said it is clear the debris was from people trying to toss items into the flame after-hours at the museum.

“Unfortunately we don’t have cameras on site. That is going to be one of our priorities now,” said Maltman.

The Flame of Hope is considered an international symbol of hope that a cure for diabetes will be found. People from more than 80 countries travel to the museum, the former home of Sir Frederick Banting, each year. The site on Adelaide Street, near Queens Avenue, is where Banting thought of the idea that led to the discovery of insulin.

The loss of the iconic flame has led to an outpouring of support for the historical site on social media.

“This is something we haven’t budgeted for. Like all charities, we are suffering challenges in this era of COVID,” said Maltman. “The community is responding with questions of how they can help and we are trying to find the best way to allow them to do so.”

When the monument is repaired it is likely it will be relit with little fanfare because of restrictions around social gatherings due to COVID-19. Instead, it will likely be shared through a Facebook Live video, Maltman added.

In the meantime, a smaller, electric flame Banting House uses for special events has been placed in the museum’s front window.

“We placed it there so the community knows that we still are looking toward a cure and thinking of those affected by diabetes,” said Maltman.