‘I’m just going to start from scratch’: Toronto pianist loses possessions in Queen Street West fire

Toronto composer and pianist loses all belongings in 3-alarm fire on Queen Street West
WATCH ABOVE: On Tuesday, Richard Herriott was woken up after a neighbour who banged on his door yelling about a fire. He was quick to escape, but soon after his home was up in flames. Erica Vella speaks with the pianist and composer about what life has been like in the days following the fire.

Days after a three-alarm fire ripped through his home on Queen Street West, pianist and composer Richard Herriott says even though he has lost almost all of his possessions, he’s just happy to be alive.

“I’m just going to start from scratch,” he said.

Emergency crews were called to a restaurant on Queen Street West, just west of Dufferin Street, shortly after 5 a.m. on Tuesday. Fire officials said smoke was visible from the back of the first-floor unit in a commercial-residential building.

The fire spread to the second and third floors of the three-storey building, forcing the evacuation of residents living in apartments above the restaurant.

READ MORE: 3-alarm fire breaks out at Queen Street West restaurant in Toronto

Herriott said he was woken up by his neighbour, who was banging on his door.

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“[Carly] said, ‘Richard there is a fire,’ and then smoke started coming into my room and I just grabbed whatever I could … and we all went downstairs and the firemen showed up and the next thing, there was loads of smoke billowing out,” he said.

“My room was trashed, basically. The fireman told me I was lucky to get out when I did… When I was finally allowed to go around the back of the unit… I could see the inside of my flat and they said, ‘Did you live in that one?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and they said, ‘God, you are so lucky.’”

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Herriott is a concert pianist and composer who has played in over 14 countries around the world and the first piano concerto he composed was called The Newfie Bullet, which had its Toronto premiere in April 2017.

He has been playing piano professionally since 1976 and in the hours following the fire, he said he felt the pull to play piano.

“I came to work last night and played (at a dance) class… I just decided this is all that I’ve got,” he said.

READ MORE: Toronto busker reunites with missing bassoon weeks later

The fire has left Herriott without a home and many personal valuables have been destroyed, including his keyboard and manuscripts.

“I have Yamaha Clavinova – which is fine to practice on at home – that’s wasted now because of when they sprayed the flat … I’ve lost all my scores, all my music, all my manuscripts, books, clothes, you name it, the whole lot,” he said.

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“My two diplomas I got from Trinity college and Royal College of Music, that is all up in flames … There are also things that are priceless.

READ MORE: Elderly man in hospital after fire in Toronto’s northwest end

“My favorite film is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I had one of the collector item cars, that’s gone … but as they say in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the ashes of disaster come the roses of success, so we just have to see what happens now.”

Herriott said he is currently staying with a friend and a GoFundMe crowdfunding page has been set up to help raise funds to help him as he recovers.

“I’m feeling overwhelmed by the support I’m getting from all around the world – from friends all around the world,” he said.