Fire in Charlottetown, 1866


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Submitted by Gary Carroll - garycarroll@hotmail.com


The Herald 18 July, 1866, page 2

FIRE!

It is our painful duty this week to record one of the most disastrous and destructive fires that has ever visited Charlottetown. Four blocks in the most business part of the city, extending in one direction from Dorchester to Water Street, and in the other from Pownal to Great George Street, and comprising upwards of one hundred dwelling houses and places of business, have been destroyed, with the exception of nine buildings, namely Peakes brick building (occupied by Hall, Eckart, and Tarr) west side of Water Street; the Bonded Warehouse (brick) do.; the Osborne House, (wood), do.; Mrs. Hudson's house, (occupied by Mr. D. Currie and Mr. McEwen), Great George Street; Mr. McQuaid's, (Tailor) King Street; Reddin's Red Warehouse, Great George Street; the building on the corner of Great George and Dorchester Streets, (occupied by Mr. Mahaffey and two or three other families); Mr. Patrick McQuaid's (Tailor) and Mr. James Barret's Dorchester Street. As for the rest of these blocks, nothing remains to tell that they were ever inhabited, except blackened timbers, smouldering ruins, and long rows of desolate, naked chimneys. Even the buildings within the range of the fire, but which did not ignite, on the west side of Dorchester Street, and on the east side of Water Street, present a scorched and blistered appearance, which is anything but agreeable. It is calculated that from one hundred and fifty to two hundred families have been rendered homeless and almost destitute. The fire commenced on Sunday morning about 2 o'clock, in the house known as Bagnall's building, corner of King and Pownal Streets, but which has recently come into the possession of Messrs. Hugh Monaghan and J.G. Eckstadt. It was uninsured, and had been unoccupied for a fortnight back, so that how the fire originated is a mystery, unless we conclude it to be the work of an incendiary. The house, as well as some outbuildings in the rear of it, were in full blaze before any of the Fire Engines arrived on the spot, and, even when they did arrive, they were paralyzed for the want of water.. In fact, the utter inefficiency of the fire department was as conspicuous as ever, and augers badly for the safety of the city in future. The wind, which, fortunately, was not very high, was blowing west by south, and the flames rapidly spread west as far as the south side of Dorchester Street, upon the corner of which and Pownal Streets, was the shop of Wm. Murray, baker; thence north, up Dorchester Street, as far as the building of Jas. Barrett, blockmaker, which although in a blaze at one time, was after the most determined exertions, saved, and thus, Providentially, the Bishop's residence, the Catholic Cathedral, and, in fact the eastern and western portions of the city in this direction were rescued from destruction. Mr. Barrett's workshop, and the large building - the property of His Lordship the Bishop - formerly owned and occupied as a private residence by the late Dennis Reddin, and lately in the occupation of D. O'M. Reddin, Esq., were destroyed. On Pownal Sreet the fire extended as far east as Water Street, and thence north as far as the Bonded Warehouse, which being a brick building, stopped the fire in this quarter. every house within this area, with the exception of Peakes brick building on Water Street, occupied as places of business by Messrs. I. C. Hall, Eckart, and Capt. Tarr, was consumed. Mawley's boarding house (the Mansion House) and the Express Office of Mr. Silas Barnard, are the most prominent buildings destroyed on Pownal Street. On Queen Street, the Reading Room, Mr. Herman's work-shop, the Franklin boarding house, P. McGowan, Esq., proprietor, Ross's Weekly office, the auction room of Mr. A. McNeill, and the wareroom of Mssrs. William Welsh & Owen, the residences and places of business of N. Rankin and W.R. Watson, Esqrs, and of Mr. Bernard Reddin and his mother, were also destroyed. On the north side of Queen's Street the shops of H.P. Terlizzick, F. McKenna, and several Public Houses; O'Connell's Variety Shop, Eckstadt's Saloon, and Martin Hogan's House of Entertainment are also in ruins. The best known buildings on Dorchester Street are those of Mr. Feure, Mr. Holman's late boarding house, and Maurice kelly's; those on King Street are Charles McKenna's. Mrs. Dewar's, Mr. John McQuillan's Grocery Store, mr. Stanley's (Shoemaker) and Mr. P. Blake's (Butcher); and those on Water Street are mr. Henderson's house, Mrs. Lowden's, Mr. Alexr. McKenzies (Confectioner), Gillis's boarding house, and the house next the Bonded Warehouse, formerly occupied by the late Mr. Little, latterly by a Mr. Harris.

From the time the fire got properly underway until it ceased near Great George Street, about ten o'clock, a. m., all the efforts put forth to arrest it were in vain. The wooden buildings went down before it like chaff or shavings, and, as the Catholic Church was in imminent danger of catching fire, and, if it had, from its commanding position and height, it would have scattered destruction far and wide. It appears almost the intervention of Providence that the greater part of the city is not in ashes at this moment. Large flakes of burning shingles were carried for miles up the Hillsborough River, and the roar and rush of the flames, as they leaped from house to house, might be heard for miles round; whilst the heat was so intense that no person could stand within one hundred yards range of the fire, even on the windward side of it, without being almost scorched or suffocated. The streets and squares presented a strange and saddening spectacle. Piles of household furniture and goods broken and shattered, were scattered on all sides, and cows, pigs, horses and poultry roamed at large without regard to the City Laws, Hog Reeves, or Acts of Parliament. The want of water and of system amnd organization in the fire department were again made manifest when the fire reached Queen Street. With a sufficiency of water and proper management, the fire, hemmed in by the bank on one side, and the brick buildings of Owen Connolly, Esq., and Hons. D. Brenan and James Duncan, might have been stayed. There was no water, however, and the way in which clothing and combustible articles were allowed to accumulate in the street, and which, igniting every moment by falling cinders, gave the victory to the devouring element.

Thus, for want of proper precautions and proper organization, property to the estimated value of £50,000 or £60,000 has been destroyed, and upon this large amount, only £15,000 of insurance has been effected, distributed among three Insurance Offices as follows: The Mutual (local) £7000; the London and Lancashire (Hon. C. Young, Agent) £6000; and the Queen's (Carvell Brothers, Agents) £2000, cy. Too much praise cannot be awarded to the officers and men of the detachment of Her Majesty's 4th Regiment stationed here, for the manner in which they exerted themselves on this occasion. Prominent, too, among our citizens we noticed the Hons. George Coles, E. Palmer, and D. Davies, and many others who have now escaped our recollection, who, both by example and precept, eventually brought something like order and judgement into the struggle to subdue the fire. indeed every person present -- ladies not excepted, not a few of whom we observed in the lines passing buckets -- worked with a will, and, in noticing the above gentlemen specially, we by no means wish to detract from the credit due to Mr. Bertram Moore, Dr. Strickland, Owen Connolly, Esq., and dozens of others who, we are sure, might be named.

At two o'clock in the afternoon a meeting --- over which his Worship the mayor presided --- as called in the City Hall, and a committee appointed to collect subscriptions and provide food and shelter for the destitute. the Lower Temperance Hall, the Drill Room, and both Market Houses have, in the meantime, been thrown open for their accomodation, and not a few of the homeless have found shelter there. Mrs. Stevenson also generously gave a concert on Monday night for their benefit, and we understand that the subscription list is swelling into handsome proportions.

We undrstand that W.R. Watson, Esq., Mr. Chas. McKenna, Mr. A. McNeill, B. Reddin, P. Blake, Augustus Hermans, the Proprietor of the Weekly, Martin Hogan, and, indeed we might say, every person who has been burnt out have been heavy losers by this unfortunate fire; but we trust that perseverance and time will more than replace the loss sustained. We sympathise with them all, for whether insured or not, they must be losers to a greater or less extent by the suspension of their business, not to speak of the trouble and anxiety entailed by a calamity of this kind.

One accident only of a serious nature occurred by the falling of some heavy article from the second story of Mr. Connolly's warehouse, Dorchester Street, on the head of Wiliam Allin, (tinsmith), We understand he is now out of danger.

Disastrous as this fire has been, it teaches this moral, which, as it is an expensive one, seemed to have been imperatively required, and is all the more valuable --- that unless an adequate supply of water and suitable fire engines are speedily obtained for the city, and a reasonable check put to the further erection of wooden buildings in the business part of the town, we shall not be surprised to see it in complete ruins some of those days. We cannot, however, expect much from a City Council guilty of the folly of erecting a large wooden Market House on Queen Square --- an enormous lucifer match we might call it, placed in the centre of the city. It remains with the citizens at the coming civic elections to remedy this state of affairs, by putting men in the council who know the requirements of the city, and who have the energy and ability to enforce their being carried out.

Islander Fri., 20 July, 1866:

A large part of Charlottetown has disappeared. Early on Sunday morning, a fire was discovered in an old house situate on the Eastern side of Pownal Street, and in a few hours nearly all the buildings on four squares of the City were completely destroyed. The fire extended at right angles Eastwardly from Pownal Street. The flames were bounded on one side by Water Street, and on the other side by Dorchester Street, and in their course they impartially licked up every building except two, one a brick warehouse, belonging to Messrs. Peake and D. Hodgson, occupying the site of the "Victoria Hotel" and the other the brick building owned by Mr. D. Hodgson, and used by the Government as a Bonded Warehouse. Fortunatyely there was but little wind, and the progress of the fire was not so rapid as to prevent the removal of large quantities of goods and furniture. The value of property destroyed probably exceeds L50,000. The liability of the several Insurance Offices, it is believed, will amount to about L14,000. The loss of the Mutual Insurance Company will be between L6,000 and L7,000 - the balance of the loss will fall upon the larger Companies. The Mutual Company has in hand sufficient to meet all their liabilities.

To the circumstance of there being very little wind at the time of the fire, we are indebted for the safety of the greater part of the City. Had there been a strong wind, the Roman Catholic Cathedral would have take fire, and in all probabliity the fire would have extended to the open country.

The fire of Sunday has destroyed much property, and to many has caused misery and suffering such as demand the sympathy of all; At the same time we are strongly of the opinion that this calamity will be the means of averting a much greater. We have heretofore had a wooden town, and but for the lesson which they have just had, the owners of land would probably have gone on adding wooden house to house until they accumulated the materials for a fire such as, instead of destroying but four squares, would lay the entire City in ashes. The fire which has just occurred did not surprise any reflecting man; all such knew well that the destruction of the piles of matchwood which disappeared on Sunday morning, was in the ordinary nature of things inevitable.

The most valuable part of the City is now vacant. Will the erection of wooden buildings upon the burnt district be permitted? We trust not. The common safety and common interest of the citizens, alike, demands that, in this part of the City at least, no wooden buildings should be allowed. We know not whether the City Council possess the power to enact the laws necessary to prevent owners of land from erecting wooden houses. If they do not possess such powers, they should certainly seek to obtain them. We may reasonably expect that the Foreign Insurance Offices will withdraw their agencies, and that no one will be found to take risks in the City so long as it remains an aggregation of wooden houses which a single fire may sweep away by the hundred.

The means for extinguishing fires in Charlottetown have been most inefficient. We have had neither hose nor engines such as we might have had, and the owners of wooden houses were content to see the City endangered to a frightful extent, so long as they could find Insurance Companies to indemnify them from loss. The premiums heretofore charged for insurance have been excessively high, at the same time they have not been adequate to the risk. If our City were built of brick or stone, instead of paying one-and-a-half per cent per annum, our merchants would, we believe, readily find insurance for their goods at from one-quarter to one-half per cent. We understand that an efficient Steam Fire Engine, with abundance of Hose, is about to be imported. With such apparatus, and a supply of water kept in different parts of the City, we shall be much better off than we have been; but neither Steam Fire Engines nor miles of hose will avail if the owners of the land recently cleared be allowed to re-cover it with wooden buildings.

View poem about this fire by John Lepage

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