The Great Conflagration


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Transcribed by Gary Carroll - garycarroll@hotmail.com


From: LePage, John The Island Minstrel page 202

The Great Conflagration
On the 15th July, 1866, the inhabitants of Charlottetown were awaked from their slumbers by the hoarse clangour of the firebell breaking through the stillness which usually prevails in our midst on a Summer Sunday morning. It was soon discovered that fire had originated among some shavings, in a house recently purchased by Mr. J.G. Eckstadt, hair Dresser, of this City; and which at the time, was undergoing some repairs. The house itself formed part of the group of buildings, known as the Bagnall property; and which from its situation and surroundings, was particularly dangerous as the starting point for an extensive conflagration. The weather for some time previously, had been exceedingly dry, and the roofs of the houses around, in consequence, were almost like tinder, which kindling from the sparks that fell upon them in fiery showers, burst into flames and spread with resistless fury in all directions. The Firemen and inhabitants did all they could, but notwithstanding their utmost efforts, the buildings on four blocks, in the most populous part of the city were in a few hours, almost entirely destroyed. It is estimated that property to the amount of £ 60,000 was consumed by the devouring element; not more than one third of which was covered by Insurance.

The following letter was received from a young friend in Canada West, to whom was sent a copy of the verses, printed below.

Creemore P.O.,
Simcoe County,
C.W.,
21 August, 1866


Dear Friend Lepage;
I received, the other day, an exceedingly good and at the same time somewhat amusing poetical account of the late disastrous fire which destroyed so large a portion of the good old city of Charlotte town. One of my sisters intimated by a few words that it was a present from you. Now, I must just say that I am very much obliged to you for your kindness in thinking of me in this far off portion of the half-civilized world.You will therefore accept of my thanks for your very welcome present.

And believe me, yours truly,
J.R. Thompson

To John lePage, Esq.

"Fire! Fire! said the crier;
Where? Where? said the Mayor"

In Pownal Street! said Major Beete,
Those ancient piles of wood,--
The Bagnall Buildings, which complete,
For sixty years have stood!
Of venerable memory;
Among our oldest names;
Ring! ring! the bell, the folk to tell
These buildings are in flames!

Enwrapt in balmy slumbers, lay
The citizens around,
Tir'd with the toils of Saturday,
and, "sleeping very sound."
Ding, dong! Ding, dong! both loud and long,
The Fire-Bell, in its way,
Said sleepers rise and rub your eyes,
There's work to do to-day!

In haste they rose, put on their clothes,
Each striving for the van;
Some with the engines and the hose,
And some with buckets ran,
The people swarm'd, the lines were form'd,
But pipe and hose were vain,-
'Twas all too late to stop the fate
Of Bagnall's old domain!

Thence, raging conflagration red
Went forth, three several ways
North, to the "Mansion House," it spread,
And set it in a blaze.
Three times was check'd the furious flame,
Before the die was cast;
Three times the fire renew'd its claim,
And brought it down at last.

Southward, the fiery current streams,
With wreck and ruin fraught;
Mike Kelly's dwelling brightly gleams,
And Barnard's too has caught!
Up Water Street, with raging heat,
The igneous billows roll,
Eastward their course, with gathering force,
And rage beyond control.

But ah! to trace their onward way
Exceeds the Muses flight;
On shingles dry the cinders fly,
And blaze where'er they light.
A hundred roofs in ruin flare--
'Tis vain to think on names--
Alas for teeming millions there,
Truck Street is all in flames!

And now remark, one fatal spark!
And, ere the hour of noon,
The fire has burnt from Pownal Street
To Eckstadt's grand saloon!
One blackened scene is all between
That meets the astonished eye;
Save Peakes brick warehouse, two whole blocks
In smoking debris lie!

"How great a matter!" who can tell
One spark abroad may send;
Or who divine, if kindled well,
Where its effect shall end?
Not Queen Street wide, the city's pride,
Nor all her sons emprise
Can downward bring the fiery wing,
On which destruction flies!

Across Queen Street the flame is sent,
Urged by the heated blast,
To the old seat of government,
That relic of the past;
Though ninety years it there has stood,
Defiant to decay,
Envelop'd in a fiery flood,
Behold it pass away!

With all its neighboring range!-- and how
The flames again extend!
Two other blocks are burning now,
Where shall this ruin end?
Riches are making fiery wings,
With which to take their flight;
"Exeunt in fumo!" -- transient things,
How soon they're out of sight!

Up! up the hill! to Great George Street
The fire has made its way;
But there, thank God for mercy great,
The flames their fury stay.
Thanks be unto the fire brigade,
Who fought through stifling air,
And by their efforts, nobly made,
Stopp'd devastation there.

Some say the Bishop turn'd the flame;
Well! if that tale be true,
I'll not object, in wonder's name,
To thank the Bishop too.
For had the large Cathedral caught,
And burnt, from steeple down,
We might have said, as ruin spread,
Good-bye to Charlottetown!

See Also: 1866 Fire

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