Officials with London’s Banting House National Historic Site of Canada say they’re disheartened and outraged after the Flame of Hope — a symbol for millions around the world that a cure for diabetes will someday be found — was extinguished over the weekend by vandals.
Grant Maltman, Banting House’s curator, told 980 CFPL he was contacted around 10:30 p.m. Saturday by fire officials who said there was an issue with the flame. A passerby, they said, had been walking by Banting House and smelled gas.
“Your heart drops, and then you just get in the car and you race down and pray for green lights,” Maltman said Monday.
“It had been out for a while because it wasn’t hot and we were able to see that debris — metal, wood, papers — had all been stuffed into the bowl of the flame.”
Banting House is where, a century ago this October, Sir Frederick Banting came up with his idea that led to the discovery of insulin. The site has been recognized as the birthplace of insulin since at least 1923, according to the museum.
The Flame of Hope, first lit by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother during her visit to London in July 1989, has burned ever since with the promise that it will only be put out once a cure for diabetes has been found.
“To have it go out in this way, in such a reckless way, is really disheartening,” Maltman said.
The extent of the damage has yet to be fully realized. Maintaining the monument takes a crew of at least three people, Maltman said.
“The bowl’s extremely heavy. They’ll be here for a few hours, so we haven’t been able to assess all the damage yet. We’re waiting for them to arrive,” he said late Monday morning.
London police said they had not had the incident reported to them as of late Monday morning.
The damage to the flame comes as Banting House’s owner, Diabetes Canada, faces reduced revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other charitable organizations across the country.
“It’s something that we didn’t budget for, obviously,” Maltman said. “Like every other charity, we’ve been shuttered since March 15, so the museum has ended our school programs, we’ve had to cancel special events.”
“This is something that we never planned for, and with reduced revenues, it will provide a challenge for us for sure.”
With the landmark Flame of Hope stamped out, for the time being, Banting House officials have plugged in a smaller, symbolic flame that can be seen from outside through a window.
“We wanted to let the diabetes community know that we’re still thinking of them and we’re working hard… and that this symbol is still there for them and will be burning until we get the flame repaired.”
It’s not the first time the flame has been put out by vandals.
In the spring of 1990, less than a year after it was lit, the flame was extinguished and had its ignition switches and burners smashed, according to a Toronto Star piece published at the time.
A 26-year-old man later confessed and was ordered to foot the repair costs.
— With files from 980 CFPL’s Scott Monich