Toronto family identified as victims of tragic Christmas Eve fire at Stoney Lake

Family of four was spending first Christmas at recently purchased cottage near McCracken's Landing

Geoff Taber, his wife Jacquie Gardner, and their two sons Scott and Andrew perished in a Stoney Lake cottage fire on Christmas Eve (photo courtesy of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP)
Geoff Taber, his wife Jacquie Gardner, and their two sons Scott and Andrew perished in a Stoney Lake cottage fire on Christmas Eve (photo courtesy of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP)

Although police have yet to confirm the names of the family who perished in a Christmas Eve fire at a cottage on Stoney Lake, friends have identifed the victims as 56-year-old Toronto lawyer Geoff Taber, his wife Jacqueline “Jacquie” Gardner, and their two sons, 15-year old Scott and 13-year-old Andrew. Their two family dogs, Haley and Shelby, also perished in the fire.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday, December 24th, neighbours called police and emergency services to report a fire at 614 Hamilton Drive North, near McCracken`s Landing and Wild Fire Golf and Country Club on Stoney Lake. Emergency service workers found the bodies of two people and two family pets inside the cottage, which was completely destroyed by the fire.

The Tabers' two family dogs, Haley and Shelby, also perished in the fire  (photo: Jacquie Gardner / Facebook)
The Tabers’ two family dogs, Haley and Shelby, also perished in the fire (photo: Jacquie Gardner / Facebook)

Police were aware that a family of four owned the cottage, but were initially unable to locate the other two people believed to have been inside the cottage. The fire completely levelled the structure, collapsing it into the basement and requiring the removal of debris to conduct a search.

On December 26th, investigators from the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) located the bodies of the two additional persons.

Although police have notified next of kin, they won’t be officially confirming the identifies the victims until postmortem examinations have been completed. However, friends identified the cottage as belonging to Geoff Taber, a corporate and securities lawyer with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Toronto.

Geoff Taber and his two sons in 2012 (photo: Geoff Taber / Facebook)
Geoff Taber and his two sons in 2012 (photo: Geoff Taber / Facebook)

The Taber family, who lived in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood, had owned an island cottage for the past four years. Earlier this year, they purchased a 4,000-square-foot timber cottage on the mainland on Stoney Lake (about 140 kilometres northeast of Toronto) for over $1 million. They were spending their first Christmas there, along with their sons Scott and Andrew and their two family dogs.

Both Geoff Taber and his wife Jackie Gardner were lawyers. They had both practiced at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Toronto, and Gardner later joined Altamira Investment Services where she served in the role of General Counsel and Secretary before leaving legal practice to raise the couple’s sons Scott and Andrew.

Geoff Taber with his two teenage sons Scott and Andrew on Stoney Lake in September 2016 (photo: Jacquie Gardner / Facebook)
Geoff Taber with his two teenage sons Scott and Andrew on Stoney Lake in September 2016 (photo: Jacquie Gardner / Facebook)

In a statement released on the Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP website, chief executive Dale Ponder wrote: “There are no words adequate enough to express the depth of grief we feel about this tragedy. Geoff was a generous, vibrant and wonderful person, a prescient and talented partner and a great friend.”

“He was at the forefront of understanding the importance of the technology sector to Canada and was the founder of the firm’s Emerging Companies Group. The same entrepreneurial spirit Geoff exuded struck a chord with the many emerging and later-stage companies that sought his advice over the years. He loved bringing together entrepreneurs and investors and devoted his time to ventures to encourage entrepreneurship such as the Creative Destruction Lab at the Rotman School of Business as well as The Next 36, Canada’s Entrepreneur Leadership Institute. Today the technology industry practice he and his partners (and also his best friends) built at Osler is among our most important business lines. But it is the man we will miss the most.”

“We will treasure Geoff’s indomitable spirit, passion for adventures including biking some of the world’s most challenging terrain and, above all, the unstinting love for his family and friends.”

Geoff Taber (second from left) was an avid cyclist who co-founded a cycling group in his Riverdale, Toronto neighbourhood. Here he's pictured on a cycling tour in France in 2013. (Photo: Geoff Taber / Facebook)
Geoff Taber (second from left) was an avid cyclist who co-founded a cycling group in his Riverdale, Toronto neighbourhood. Here he’s pictured on a cycling tour in France in 2013. (Photo: Geoff Taber / Facebook)

According to Karl Kustor, who owns Harbour Town marina at McCracken’s Landing, the Taber family frequented his business.

“The boys were typical boys who played hockey, fished, and truly loved the lake,” Kustor says in an interview with CBC News.

Geoff Taber was an avid cyclist and co-founded the Riverdale Riders group with friend and neighbour Gordon Cheong. According to Cheong, who cycled with Geoff Taber on the Friday before the family left for the cottage, the Tabers planned to live at their Stoney Lake home when they eventually retired.

Members of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management), Central Region Forensic Identification Services, and, Peterborough County OPP Detachment and Crime Unit continue to investigate the origin of the fire.

The recovered bodies have been transported to the Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Forensic Pathology Services in Toronto. Post-mortem examinations will be conducted to assist in the formal identification of the deceased persons and to assist in the determination of the causes of death.

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