Fires in Saint John
By Ruby M. Cusack
It didn’t matter if the weather was warm or cold, or if the season was summer or winter the only way to cook food in our home was to have a fire going in the kitchen stove.
Cliff and I had the daily chore of filling the wood box and bringing
in the cedar kindling. Saturday morning meant emptying the ashes. The metal
box was removed from the stove and carried down to the field, where Dad
kept an old Beatty wash tub with a piece of a tin barrel for a cover. Mum
had lots of warnings associated with this task.
According to Mum, hot ashes had caused the loss of many a home.
It seems that Mum was not the only person concerned about the danger of ashes as an Act was passed on 07 March 1812, authorizing regulations for the more effectual prevention of fires within the City of Saint John and one of them being to direct the construction of deposits for ashes.
According to the newspaper, the City Gazette of 02 January 1816, Common Council of Saint John declared that every dwelling house have two good leather buckets, each of which shall be sufficient to contain two and a half gallons of water. The bucket shall be well painted inside and out and be marked on the outside each with the first letter of the christian name and the surname at length of the proprietor of such house and shall be kept hanging in some conspicuous part of the entry or near the front door and not to be used for any other purpose.
The first recorded fire in Saint John took place on 18 June 1784 and was considered a terrible blow as it destroyed eleven houses. A large number of discharged soldiers of the 42nd regiment were the principal sufferers. A women and child were burnt.
“The Story of the Great Fire of 1877" by George Stewart tells of Mr. E. Lantalum sounding the fire alarm for a fire that started at 2:30 p.m. in York Point on 20 June 1877. The flames spread rapidly with flying embers being carried miles by the northwest winds.
By the time the fire was finally extinguished, it had destroyed 290 acres, 10 miles of streets and 2,780 families had lost their homes, with more than 14,000 people homeless as well as the loss of several ships.
Stewart states that among the people who lost their lives due to the fire were Benjamin Williams, Harold Gilbert, William McNeill, Garrett Cotter, Mrs. Trepagle and her sister a Miss Clark, Captain William Firth and Joseph Bell. Many were admitted or treated at the Hospital.
Some of the Public Buildings destroyed were the Post Office, Odd Fellows Hall, Saint John Hotel, Dock Street Opera House, Deaf and Dumb Institution and the Wiggins Orphanage. Several churches were lost - among them bein, Trinity - Germain Street, Christian Church - Duke Street, Mission House - Sheffield Street and the Methodist Church on Carmarthen Street.
The Chief Engineer of the Fire Department was Thomas Marter, with Samuel Dunlop, George Drake and John Wilson being district engineers. A list of the firemen can be found in Stewart’s book on the Great Fire.
To learn more about the fires that have plagued Saint John and the people involved, I suggest inquiring at your local library for the following books.
The Story of the Great Fire of Saint John, New Brunswick, June 20th, 1877 by George Stewart.
The History of the Great Fire in Saint John, June 20 & 21, 1877 by Russell H. Conwell.
The Rebuilding of Saint John New Brunswick 1877-1881 by Anne C. Hale.
Still Alarm - A Pictorial Overview of the Saint John Fire Department As It Enters Its 3rd Century of Service With Pride by Brian J. MacDonald and Gerald Green.
Hennigar: I would like to hear from descendants of Adam Hennigar and sons, Michael and Christopher, of New York City and Saint John, New Brunswick, Loyalists during the American Revolution.
-John Hennigar. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruby is a genealogy buff . Send your queries to her at: email@example.com. Include your name and mailing address for the benefit of the readers of the newspaper who do not have access to E-mail but could have information to share with you. Queries should not exceed 45 words. Please put "Yesteryear" followed by the surnames in your query. For more information on submitting queries, visit http://www.rubycusack.com/Query-Instructions.html
Ruby contributes a "Family History" column to the Telegraph-Journal on Tuesdays