Significant Fires in Belleville’s History
Loyalty, Tradition and Progress is a new exhibit developed by Glanmore National Historic Site in partnership with Belleville Fire and Rescue. To celebrate the exhibit’s grand opening, on September 17, 2016, significant fires in Belleville’s history have been highlighted on Glanmore’s social media accounts throughout September. Here is a recap of the fire stories we told:
The Day Fire Hall No. 1 Burned – June 19, 1907
A significant fire at Fire Hall No. 1, located on Front Street near Dundas St. took place on the afternoon of June 19, 1907.
The fire started with hay in the Queen’s Hotel stables and spread quickly through the adjacent Fire Hall. Two fire horses were rescued from the burning stables by Harry Lake and William Penny (Fire Hose Cart Driver). Penny was alerted to the fire by the sounds of the horses pawing. Efforts to save the hose wagon were unsuccessful due to dense smoke and flames. Harry Lake and one of the rescued horses each suffered burns from the fire.
The No. 2 Fire Company arrived to help battle the fire and prevent further spread. It proved to be a challenging fire to fight and it certainly did not help that No. 1 Fire Company could not provide their equipment since it was involved in the blaze.
Once extinguished only the brick walls of the fire station remained. An old steam fire engine, a hose wagon containing 500 feet of hose, additional fire fighting equipment, clothing and other personal items belonging to firefighters were all destroyed in the blaze.
The day after the fire a nine year-old boy confessed to throwing a lighted match through an open window into the stables. The match landed in a pile of dry hay. According to newspaper reports the boy set the fire “just to see a blaze.”
Station No. 1, seen on the far left in the photo above, was rebuilt and new, even better, equipment was purchased. The building is still standing, now the office of Hurley Law LLP located at 112 Front St., Belleville. Fire Station No. 1 is seen above in a photograph from August 1921, when the department acquired their first motorized vehicles.
Belleville’s New Motorized Fire Trucks Tested “Under Fire” – August 25, 1921
The Belleville Fire Department’s new motorized fire trucks were used to respond to a call for the first time at 5:20 pm on August 25, 1921. Two R.E.O. Speed Wagon Fire Trucks were just acquired by the Department a few weeks earlier on August 1.
Although the trucks raced to the scene, the drivers ensured that they stayed within the legal speed limit in Belleville’s busy business section. The trucks were hurried to a house fire at 42 Grier Street. It was thought that a spark from the chimney set fire to some wood shavings at the home. The fire was quickly extinguished. The majority of fire damage was to the roof and the home was insured.
As this was the first time the trucks were used to attend a fire scene it truly was a test “under fire.” The firefighters noted that it was difficult for people on the street to hear the fire gongs that they had always used with the horse and wagon. As a result, the decision was made to procure sirens and add them to the trucks.
Here is a link to a video that highlights a similar 1921 R.E.O. Speed Wagon Fire Truck.
Fire at St. Thomas Anglican Church, Belleville, ON – February 26, 1876
Passers-by saw a light in the church at 10:00 p.m on the evening of February 26, 1876. They did not call for an alarm as they believed it was just the choir practising. When the No.1 steamer arrived, it did not have enough hose to reach the church. The No. 2 steamer and water barrels were placed at the bottom of the hill at the corner of Bridge St. and Pinnacle St. to help fight the fire. The church was rebuilt incorporating the old walls. The walls survived once more during a second significant fire on April 30, 1975.
Cities Service Oil Ltd. Fire – August 16, 1940
The Cities Service Oil storage tanks, located near the waterfront of the Foster Ward district of Belleville caught fire and 50,000 gallons of gas and oil were destroyed. Staff tried unsuccessfully to put the fire out before the fire department arrived. The Trenton Air station sent 100 airmen and their new pumper to help fight the blaze. An aircraftsman with an asbestos suit went into the fire twice to shut off valves on the oil and gas tanks. A CNR employee aided by removing two loaded fuel tank train cars which were close to the burning tanks. All of the buildings and homes surrounding the fire were evacuated.
Suspected Arson: Fire at the Corner of Victoria Avenue and Front Street, Belleville – April 30, 1972
The fire started in a pile of cardboard boxes, trash and discarded bicycle tires in the breezeway behind (what was then) the Stephen Licence bicycle shop. In this photo of the fire King Sol Discounts is visible on the right and Stephen License bicycle and hobby store is on the left. Many businesses, offices and apartments were lost, as well as the entirety of the historic building which dated back to 1842. Several firefighters were injured due to the volume of falling debris. The fire marshal believed the fire was a case of arson.
Fire at Hotel Quinte – January 4, 1907 and December 20, 2012
Hotel Quinte was built in 1895 on the site of the former Dafoe House Hotel, which had previously burned down in 1885.
The first fire at Hotel Quinte took place on January 4, 1907. This fire began as a result of faulty wiring. Guests and staff evacuated, and the assistant manager was able to save the hotel’s record books. The fire department worked all night, but only the walls remained.
The hotel was rebuilt, but suffered a second disastrous fire on the evening of December 20, 2012. The hotel was undergoing renovations and a restaurant had recently opened on the main floor. The dramatic blaze and the devastating loss of such a historic building is still very fresh in the memory of our community.
Fire at the Springer Lock Company and the Line of Duty Death of Chief W. Brown, – September 22, 1929
An alarm sounded at 7:30 on September 22, 1929, a stubborn flame having been discovered between the ceiling in the moulding room at the Springer Lock Company on Coleman Street in Belleville. The Belleville Fire Department was quickly on scene. They located the trouble and, under Chief William Brown’s direction, mounted to the roof of the building to battle the flames.
A hole was chopped in the roof to get at the fire. The ceiling of the moulding room was comprised of thin beaverboard. As a result, wooden planks were placed across a joist to enable the firefighters to approach more closely.
Chief Brown and George Smith took a line of hose down through the cavity and were applying water directly to the fire. The heavy pressure of the water caused the nozzle to swerve sharply to one side knocking both men off the supporting plank. George Smith was able to cling to the fire hose and pull himself to safety. Chief Brown, however, was holding a lantern and did not have a free hand to grab at the hose. He fell approximately 30 feet to the floor below. Members of the department rescued the Chief from the building and rushed him to the hospital where he died a few hours later of internal injuries.
The fire itself was quickly extinguished and caused only a few hundred dollars damage to the building but the loss of Chief Brown was significant blow to the community. He was considered one of the City’s faithful servants. Chief Brown started as a volunteer firefighter and had more than 40 years experience firefighting in Belleville. He was always prepared when duty called and never sent one of “his boys” where he would not go himself. Chief Brown was 72 years old at the time of his death and was one of the oldest active firefighters in Ontario.
Fire at Dorland’s Castle – April 2, 1903
Children playing nearby first noticed the considerable smoke issuing from the roof of a home known familiarly as “Dorland’s Castle,” just before 5 pm. Located on North Front Street near the upper bridge, Dorland’s Castle was a large brick home, featuring a mansard roof and a high tower at the back of the building. At the time of the fire it was the home of Mr. L Adams and family, who occupied the back of the building, and Mr. A.W. Stickle who occupied the front portion.
Dorland’s Castle, seen in the upper right corner of this photograph, was built for Dr. Peter Dorland in the early 1870s. Originally from the township of Adolphustown, he trained in medicine in Toronto and Edinburgh. He served as a physician in the Southern United States, and traveled as a private physician for a group of men who toured Egypt and the far East before establishing a large and successful medical practice in Belleville, Ontario. According to his obituary Dr. Dorland suffered from a decline of his mental faculties, was taken advantage of by people he trusted and ultimately, in 1874, suffered a complete collapse of health and a reversal of fortunes in which his home and investment properties were sold off. He was cared for by his family for many years and resided in an asylum in the last year of his life.
The firefighters at Fire Hall No. 2 responded to the blaze and four reels of hose were quickly laid out. Strong Northwest winds fanned the fire and by the time the hoses were set up flames were seen coming from all sides of the mansard roof. The flames quickly spread to the top of the tall brick tower at the rear of the residence. Hundreds of spectators gathered to watch the fire. Shouts from the spectators warned firefighters B. Campbell and S. Crothers of impending danger as the large chimneys and a portion of the South wall collapsed and fell. Both firefighters narrowly escaped. Crothers suffered some bruises after he was struck by some of the falling debris.
Firefighters worked hard to save the building but the high winds made it impossible. A nearby wood framed home also ignited from the heat and burning embers but this was quickly extinguished. The fire brigade worked on the building until after 8 pm, at which time there was nothing left of the “Castle” but some of the brick walls.
Learn more about the significant fires and the history of Belleville’s Fire Department by visiting Loyalty, Tradition and Progress, on dispaly at Belleville Fire and Rescue Headquarters Fire Station, 60 Bettes Street, Belleville.