Arsonist torches Ottawa family's front yard library

An Ottawa family is vowing to rebuild the popular lending library they kept on the front lawn of their Civic Hospital area home after someone torched it overnight.

Neighbour's security camera captured scene as mini-library set ablaze

Emily Cronin stands beside all that's left of the mini-library in front of her family's Civic Hospital area home. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

An Ottawa family is vowing to rebuild the popular lending library they kept on the front lawn of their Civic Hospital area home after someone torched it overnight.

Emily Cronin said she and her husband Jeremy McLay were awoken just before 4 a.m. Wednesday when their neighbour, David Cullwick, rushed onto their Ruskin Street lawn with a fire extinguisher.

By then the little library, about the size of a large bird house and adorned with cedar shingles and a vintage glass door, had been reduced to charred wood. 
The ashes of a James Frey book, one of the estimated 20 to 30 books destroyed in the fire. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

"The fire department was really sympathetic," said Cronin. "They said it was the nicest little library they'd seen."

Cronin estimates the library was stocked with 20 to 30 books at the time of the fire.

As my daughter said, 'Who would do something like that?'- Emily Cronin

Cronin said one of the most difficult moments of the morning came when she had to break the news to her son, 12, and daughter, 9.

"They were really disappointed to wake up this morning and see that someone had torched their little library. As my daughter said, 'Who would do something like that?'" 

Security video captured act

Cullwick's home security camera captured someone fidgeting with the library seconds before it became engulfed in flames.
A neighbour's security camera captured this person walking by the library, then returning to it minutes before it became engulfed in flames. (David Cullwick)

The video shows the person walking past the house and slowing down to look at the library before continuing along the sidewalk. The person then suddenly returns to the library and opens the door.

As the person walks briskly away, smoke can then be seen coming from the box, and within 10 minutes it's ablaze.

The video, viewed by CBC, is too grainy to offer a description of the suspect, who was carrying a backpack.

Cullwick said he's shared the video with Ottawa police, who confirmed they are investigating the fire.

Family vows to rebuild library

The Little Free Library movement has been catching on in Ottawa. The rules are simple: anyone can borrow a book without fees or fines, and anyone can leave a book for others to read.

McLay built the library in September 2016, and even though a Hintonburg family was ordered to take their library down following complaints to the city's bylaw department, Cronin said her neighbours were very supportive.
Emily Cronin's family and their little library during happier times. (Emily Cronin)

"The kids have enjoyed seeing people come and use the library, it's been a really positive thing," said Cronin, who added she's had no complaints, and only once found graffiti on the box.

"My husband and the kids say they want to rebuild."

Several passersby stopped Wednesday morning to chat with Cronin and express their support. 

Cullwick said the little library has been a great addition to the community.

"I think it's shocking. It's got to be rebuilt."
Neighbours dropped by to commiserate Wednesday morning. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)


  • An earlier version of this story named the library's owner Emily McCronin. Her name is Emily Cronin.
    Apr 19, 2017 3:47 PM ET