The Victoria Row Charlottetown Fire of 1884


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Transcribed by Gary Carroll - garycarroll@hotmail.com


Charlottetown Herald Wednesday, 20 Feb., 1884

Great Fire in Charlottetown

A BUSINESS BLOCK DESTROYED

Post Office Building Burned Down

ESTIMATED LOSS, $250,000

Since Sunday morning, the 15th July, 1866, when whole blocks of dwelling and other houses were destroyed in Charlottetown, and damage to the extent of fifty thousand pounds inflicted, nothing like the fire of last night has taken place in the City.

Indeed, counting the mere pecuniary desstruction so far as can be estimated up to this, the fire that broke out early this morning in Mr. Kennedy’s Confectionary Store is the more destructive of the two.

The following is the history of the disaster so far as our reporter could obtain it; Mr. Kennedy, the Confectioner on Richmond Street, was in the act of placing some rat poison in a closet in rear of his premises at about a quarter to one o’clock this morning, and had with him a common kerosene lamp which he placed on a small elevation convenient, while adjusting the poison. Close to the lamp was a lot of light tissue paper - almost transparent - and highly inflammable - which is used for wrapping round confectionary. It seems that, from some cause or other, the lamp fell off the elevation on which it had been placed, the oil ran over the tissue paper which took fire, and in a few moments, the whole place, what with kerosene and paper, was one sheet of ANGRY FLAME, from which Mr. Kennedy was glad to escape with his life, to give the alarm. The fire engines arrived on the ground with unusual promptness, and worked as hard as they know how; but the materials at their command, as an extinguishing force, were not for one moment fit to cope with the flames now spreading themselves out in all directions. Before fifteen minutes had elapsed, the buildings on either side had caught, and the efforts of the firemen were divided, and therefore weakened. When the fire first broke out the air was calm, and the trife of wind blowing came from the south. Soon after, however, it veered round a few points and freshened, and kept on blowing strongly from the south-west, until the whole block between Stamper’s Corner, on Queen Street and the St. Patrick’s Hall, corner of Richmond and Great George Streets, was in ashes. Very LARGE CROWDS had meanwhile assembled, most of whom lent willing hands at the hose, in saving goods, and making themselves useful where required, but when all is said and done, it was but little could be accomplished in presence of such a fire. Messrs. W & A. Brown & Co.’s dry goods store and the Patriot building took fire about the same time, and although a good many made their way into the office and composing room of the latter, not much was saved , as indeed it was impossible, from the rapidity with which thefire was spreading and devouring the wooden structures along the block, just as if they were chips. Over Nelmes Store, reside Mrs. Ann Pendergast and Mrs. Garland - a venerable old lady - who sat on her couch utterly bewildered and helpless when Chief Engineer Large broke into her room and grasped her with life-saving intent, the time not being ONE FOR CEREMONY.

"I am not dressed," cried the old gentlewoman, the ruling passion being strong even on the point of death. "Never mind" answered Mr. Large, coolly, "this is no time for a toilette," and, so saying, he wrapped a blanket round the ancient dame, took her on his shoulders, as Aeneas bore Anchises from burning Troy, and deposited her on the sidewalk, where the spectators were much amused to see her with a pipe grasped in one of her hands, and a candlestick firmly clasped in the other. It was the sublime tinctured with the ridiculous. A little after this an episode of not quite so chivalrous a nature occurred in the lower region of Nelmes’

A number of men were in the store trying to save what they could, when suddenly the wall between that store and the adjoining one of Desbrisay and Angus gave way. All were of course alarmed, and fled, naturally thinking the flames would follow, as indeed they did very soon. But one man in his anxiety to escape jumped CLEAR AT THE WINDOW, and went through it with a fearful crash.

When the fire reached as far as Fraser & Reddin’s Drug Store it must have rejoiced for here surely were combustibles which would feed its insatiable appetite. The Fraser & Reddin people did their best to save their property, and the young gentlemen themselves worked with fierce energy, to little purpose, however, as the fire menaced them at every hand’s turn. They did save a few things but it was a mere drop in the bucket. They are insured; but, as Mr. Dennis Reddin himself said, he would much rather they were not, if it was the month of April when they could obtain a fresh stock. They are, however, not at all despondent, and are looking round for a store in which to re-commence business. Such a spirit must meet with reward. The exertions of the firemen and citizens to save the St. Patrick’s Hall WERE AS MAGNIFICENT as they were succssful, and well it is they were so, for if that building once caught, and the flames spread to the south, the conflagretion would reach a a climax. Fortunately the building is of brick, or it would have been doomed notwithstanding the drenching it got from the hose. St. Dunstan’s Cathedral also received attention for when Newson’s store and factory caught, the sacred edifice was in imminent danger. The St. Patrick’s Hall at this juncture resembled a stout fortress well defended, which resisited the opposing element, and gave time for reorganization. But there was equal danger in another quarter, and the gallant firemen had to exert themselves to the utmost to prevent the fire catching Warren’s boot store corner of Queen and Richmond Streets, and the rear of L.E. Prowse’s, both of which have been scorched. The great difficulty the firemen had to encounter was the absence of water All of it available at this time of the year was soon exhausted, and recourse had to be had to the railway tanks. There is little use in complaining, but it was realised many a time during the struggle against odds, that if the department had been placed on a proper footing, if engine houses and tanks were in a central locatity, and if they had heaters with ten or twelve pounds of steam, the disaster we are recording might have been avoided.

The following are the STORES, ETC., DESTROYED:

Kennedy’s confectionary, including the law office of Warburton & Conroy the office of McLeod & Morson, and a billiard room in the third flat; Nelmes’ bookstore, and Desbrisay & Angus’ insurance office; Taylor’s jewelery store; G.H. Haszard’s bookstore, bindery etc.; W.A. Brown & Co’s dry goods store; Henry Beer’s general store; Angus’ provision store; the Patriot newspaper office; Newson’s furniture factory and showrooms; McLean & Martin’s law office; Fraser & Reddin’s drug store; the Post Office building. Besides the above there were several buildings in the rear, and there were J. F. Powers’ hairdressing saloon and Joseph Wakefield’s billiard hall in front, and other places of minor importance. The total loss is estimated at $250,000, covered by insurance to the extent of $105,000. The following companies lost in the amounts stated opposite their names: Queen’s, $18,000; Imperial, $7,500 Hartford, $2,500; Northern and Fire Associations, $29,000; British North America and Citizens, $16,000; Citizens Insurance Company, $16,000; Commercial Union, $6,000 (estimated); North British, $8,000. The following is a partial statement of the insurances, so far as we have received them; but they are necessarily very limited, as may be seen: - John Newson is insured in the Western Insurance Company for $1,500, and in the Commercial Union (stock) for $1,500; E.W. Taylor in the Western Company for $500, and in the Commercial Union for $500, and British North America for $500; the heirs of the late J. Cameron in the Western Company for $1,675, and in the Commercial Union for $1,675; W.A. Brown & Co. in the Commercial Union (stock) $2,500; in the British North America of Toronto for $6,000, and in the Citizens’ Insurance Company of Canada for $3,000; Mcleod & Morson (law books) $600; G.H. Haszard in British North America for $1,500, and Citizens’ Insurance Company for &700.

SUDDEN DEATH

It is with deep regret we have to state that one valuable life was lost in connection with the fire. While the flames were at their fiercest, and everyone was doing his best to assist, Mr. Joseph Weeks, a gentleman highly respected in the City, was anxious to help his neighbors. He had handed in two buckets of water and felt unwell. He left a house for his home on Sydney Street, but alas! never reached there. He fell dead on the way; it is to be presumed of heart disease, over-exertion being the immediate cause. The deceased gentleman was the father of Mr. William Weeks, the dry goods merchant. About five o’clock in the morning when the people were looking sadly at the ruins, smoke was seen issuing from the new Post Office over the way, and it was at once realised that the finest building in Charlottetown was on fire. A spark had been blown across the square and had evidently fallen on the roof which is shingled and not slated as was the original intention.

It was a pity to see the flames devouring the noble building, and the firemen having to stand almost idly by for lack of water. Before eleven o’clock it was COMPLETELY GUTTED and a sum of sixty thousand dollars lost to the country. The Postmaster lost no time in looking for a temporary Post Office, which has been found in the old Bank of Prince Edward Island, and we understand that the Government Post Office Savings’ Bank will be also established there temporarily. They say misfortunes never come single, and at about ten o’clock when the crowd was watching the flames eat up the interior of the Post Office, another alarm was raised, caused this time by smoke issuing from the rear of the NORTH AMERICAN HOTEL

How the fire originated, no one knows; but it had, certainly, no connection with the other we have described, and must be set down as a remarkable coincidence merely.

In a short time the almost exhausted firemen were struggling against the new enemy that presented itself. The North American Hotel and stables were destroyed as was the carriage factory owned by John Scott and occupied by Carroll & McAleer. Several other outbuildings were burnt down, but happily the fire was checked in time. We do not know the extent of the damage done in and around the North American The Post Office officials worked like Trojans saving all their furniture, papers, &c., below while the fire was burning above them, and will begin at the new office under more favorable suspices than would be susposed.

Were it not for the exertions of Dr. Conroy and Mr. Frank Conroy it would have gone hard with the St. Patrick’s Hall, and consequently, with the church, and perhaps part of Great George Street.


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