What started out as a dream Tiny Township cottage project has turned into a nightmare for a Toronto family.
Paul Stanczak and Danielle Bablich say their lives took a serious turn early on Boxing Day when they learned that their nearly completed $400,000 cottage had been set ablaze by a suspected arsonist.
“This was a labour of love for us," Bablich says. "We were putting our savings and our future into an investment in our home up on Georgian Bay.”
Located at 23 Glen Cedar Drive and a short walk to the beach, the cottage had been about 18 months in the making after the couple bought the property that’s located just off Tiny Beaches Road North between the 18th and 19th concessions.
For Christmas, they had been staying with Bablich’s parents, who live nearby on Georgian Bay. That's where they received a call from a neighbour about the early-morning inferno that destroyed their dream.
“I just stood there on our neighbour's front lawn and watched my dream, my life’s work for the last 18 months (disappear),” Stanczak recalls during a phone interview from the Toronto home they share with their six-year-old son Leo. “It’s been a crazy two weeks."
Bablich started coming to the area when she was 14 and says both she and Stanczak knew they wanted to create their own bit of paradise in the area known for its crystal clear water, sandy beaches and tranquil setting.
“The initial thought was that it’s going to be a cottage,” Stanczak says, noting they planned to spend weekends and parts of the summer at the 1,850-square-foot summer home, which also featured a basement walkout.
But with Stanczak, 44, working in software sales,and Bablich, 37, employed as a marketing executive, there was the possibility they might be able to spend more time there, given how COVID-19 has given people greater freedom to work remotely.
As well, they noted the cottage was to be called Jameson’s Cottage, a nod to their son’s middle name.
“This was going to be kind of a summer paradise for him,” Stanczak says, noting there were lots of other kids in the neighbourhood and the property would eventually be passed down to Leo and his family.
“We felt part of that community and we felt like we wanted to have a future there as well.”
They said they didn’t have insurance on the property because they were financing the project themselves and weren’t dealing with banks, which would have required insurance as part of any financing agreement.
“We hadn’t filled the house up with appliances or a kitchen or fixtures,” Stanczak explains. “It was still kind of a shell.”
Adds Bablich: “Hindsight being 20/20, we would have immediately gotten insurance, but you never think this is going to happen to you.”
When asked why they wouldn’t have still had liability insurance on the property should someone be injured, Stanczak noted that all tradesmen working on the job site would have had their own insurance and “people don't go on the property because there's a gate and a no trespassing sign and they're not supposed to be there.”
While the “bones” of the cottage had been completed, including HVAC, plumbing, electrical and insulation, the drywall work had only recently started and Stanczak planned to spend the winter working to complete the kitchen and bathroom while also installing fixtures.
“We were actually two-thirds done,” he says. “It was on its way. We're not builders, but we're trying to do this ourselves."
Southern Georgian Bay OPP Const. David Hobson would only say the investigation was “ongoing” when asked by MidlandToday whether they had any suspects, a cause of the fire or what resources police had deployed in the case.
While he wouldn’t go into details, Stanczak says it was “fairly obvious” that the incident was the result of foul play.
They’re also hoping that anyone who might know something about the incident or witnessed anything out of the ordinary between Christmas and Boxing Day will contact police.
And without an arrest, Stanczak says they’ll continue to feel threatened.
“There were a couple of instances that made us fearful, here in Toronto, and so we've been on high alert ever since then,” he says. “Basically, the nightmare continues a little bit.
“We don't have closure, but we're trying to obviously find a higher ground and sort of have this make us stronger, and not let it destroy us.”
Adds Bablich: “We’ve leaned on our community and our friends and each other.”
A GoFundMe account has also been established by their families, including Stanczak’s brother Martin who embarked on a similar build five years ago.
“My brother's travelling at this time and when he heard about it, he was extremely distraught,” Stanczak says. “He spent a good two years of his life building his property up north. And so he knows how much work I was putting into it and knows how difficult it is.”
As for Bablich and Stanczak, they say that for the most part, they had great success completing their dream project and whenever possible employed local trades, including a local architect who created the design based on a drawing they had created on a napkin.
“I was managing the whole project and hiring local people to help make it real,” Stanczak says, noting that through it all, they’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from their new Tiny Township neighbours and local tradesmen who worked on the project.
“They really supported us and welcomed us and couldn't wait for us to be part of their community.”