'Everyone loses:' disappointment hits home over River Road fire

A weekend fire at the shuttered River Road Golf Course is being described as a loss in the fight against homelessness, a loss to taxpayers and a loss to potential investors.

“You hate to jump to conclusions, but certainly it feels like a situation where arson has taken place as a reaction to potentially the homeless shelter site being established there,” said City Councillor Shawn Lewis Monday, reacting to a fire at the River Road Club House Sunday morning.

The site was being considered for an Indigenous homeless response program over the winter. Trailers on the site meant to serve as shelters were not damaged, but damage to the club house is estimated at $1 million according to officials from the London Police Service.

The Sunday morning fire is being treated as suspicious, said London police Const. Sandasha Bough.

“Any time we have a fire investigation that’s deemed to be suspicious in nature then we will reassign that investigation to members of our Street Crime Unit in order to determine what took place.”

No one was injured in the fire.

Closed as a golf course in the early months of the pandemic, Lewis said the city had planned to divest of the public asset.

He tells CTV News London he’s aware of at least two different parties that expressed interest in acquiring the property and reopneing it as a golf course. Now he’s not so sure they’ll be able to sell it.

“If the damage is that extensive, it’s going to be very hard to get fair market value for this now from someone who’s interested in operating it as a golf facility. It also means money that won’t be going back into the golf system to support golf for those using the city’s other courses."

Heavy security was on site Monday, but that didn’t stop curiosity seekers from stopping to get a closer look. Londoner Paul Lesauvage pulled to the side of the road to take a picture of the site. He thought it strange the property was going to be used to shelter members of the homeless population.

“It seems to be a bit of a mess here with putting stuff so far from downtown where everybody wants to be. They gotta go somewhere, but I think they could have got a better spot for sure.”

Lewis, who had supported the shelter plan, said in this case everyone loses, “…the folks who are looking for homeless support over the winter, the taxpayer in terms of the value of the asset, and even potential buyers who are looking at this and the future of golf recreation in the city. Everyone has lost because of this action.”

City council is expected to get an update Nov. 16 on how the fire will affect plans for the winter homeless response program.