The Great Fire of 1900 – A Disastrous Start to the 20th Century in Ottawa
On Thursday, April 26, 1900, catastrophe and destruction struck Ottawa’s main industrial area. It started as a small house fire in Hull, but quickly became an inferno that covered the region. Thirty mile per hour winds carried the fire across the Ottawa River by the wooden bridge at Chaudière Falls, all the way to Dow’s Lake. Smoke from the fire was visible as far away as Kingston, Ont.
And the next day’s headlines read: “Large portion of Ottawa destroyed” and “Hull to all intents wiped out.”
“Just after 10 a.m., . . . a spark flew out of the chimney of (a) . . . wood-frame house in Hull and ignited a fire . . . The fire grew out of control and by noon had consumed most of downtown Hull. . . Embers borne by strong northerly winds ignited lumber yards on the Ontario shore . . . at 12:18 p.m. the alarm was sounded in Ottawa. At 3 p.m., buglers were sent . . . to call out the militia . . . explosions filled the air, as dynamite and industrial chemicals blew up. A power plant was burned, cutting electricity to whole sections of the city. Streetlights were off for five nights. Thousands of people filled the streets, anxious for news . . . By the time the fire burned itself out around midnight, Ottawa’s industrial heart was gone.”
Though over 14,000 were left homeless, amazingly, only seven people died in the fire. (More people died of disease in the densely packed, unsanitary tent cities where the homeless were forced to live afterwards.)
The scale of the fire was enormous. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed. Property loss was estimated to be greater than $100,000,000. The Canadian Pacific Union Station and freight sheds on Lebreton Flats were completely destroyed (valued at $40,000), while the value of Canadian Pacific freight lost was estimated at $30,000.
“Lumber King” J.R. Booth lost his mansion and 50 million board feet of lumber. The resulting shortage of lumber forced Canada Atlantic Railway car shops in Ottawa East to cease building new freight cars temporarily.
And the calamity made news around the world. Donations and expressions of sympathy poured into Ottawa from as far away as Chile.
“Even before the flames had died out, relief work had started . . . homeless people were accommodated at the Exhibition Grounds until the middle of June . . . a committee of women presided over by Lady Minto . . . wife of the governor general, distributed food and clothing daily to 3,000 people, until May 19.
“Officials feared that many of the homeless would move away, depriving Ottawa of valuable manpower. Swift compensation was arranged to prevent that: nearly $1 million was paid out, much of it in August.”
The rebuilding of Ottawa began immediately, resulting in 750 new buildings by the end of the year.
(Quotes from 1895–1904: Great fire of 1900 left trail of devastation, ushered city into 20th century. Series: 150th Anniversary of Ottawa; Daniel Drolet. Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa, Ont.: Feb 12, 2005. p. E.2.)
Canadian Parliament Buildings Fire of 1916
From Susan Munroe,
About the Parliament Buildings Fire of 1916:
While World War I was raging in Europe, the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa caught fire on a freezing February night in 1916. With the exception of the Library of Parliament, the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings was destroyed and seven people died. Rumours were rife that the Parliament Buildings fire was caused by enemy sabotage, but a Royal Commission into the fire concluded that the cause was accidental.
Date of the Parliament Buildings Fire:
February 3, 1916
Location of the Parliament Buildings Fire:
Background of the Canadian Parliament Buildings:
The Canadian Parliament Buildings consist of the Centre Block, the Library of Parliament, the West Block and the East Block. The Centre Block and Library of Parliament sit at the highest point on Parliament Hill with a steep escarpment down to the Ottawa River at the back. The West Block and East Block sit down the hill on each side at the front of the Centre Block with a large grassy expanse in the middle.
The original Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1866, just in time to be used as the seat of government for the new Dominion of Canada in 1867.
Cause of the Parliament Buildings Fire:
The exact cause of the Parliament Buildings fire was never pinpointed, but the Royal Commission investigating the fire ruled out enemy sabotage. Fire safety was inadequate in the Parliament Buildings and the most likely cause was careless smoking in the House of Commons Reading Room.
Casualties in the Parliament Buildings Fire:
Seven people died in the Parliament Buildings fire:
Two guests of House Speaker Albert Sévigny and his wife returned to get their fur coats and were found dead in a corridor.
A policeman and two government employees were crushed by a fallen wall.
Bowman Brown Law, the Liberal member of parliament for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia died near the House of Commons Reading Room.
The body of René Laplante, Assistant Clerk of the House of Commons, was found in the building two days after the fire.
Summary of the Parliament Buildings Fire:
Shortly before 9 p.m. on February 3, 1916, a member of parliament noticed smoke in the House of Commons Reading Room in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings.
The fire quickly raced out of control.
The House of Commons was interrupted in the middle of a debate on fish marketing.
Prime Minister Robert Borden was in his office when he was alerted to the fire. He escaped down a messenger’s stairway through thick smoke and flames. His office was badly damaged, but some papers on his desk were not touched.
Major-General Sam Hughes, who was down the street at the Ch?teau Laurier hotel when he heard about the fire, called in the local 77th Battalion to provide crowd control and help with evacuation.
At 9:30 p.n. the roof of the House of Commons collapsed.
Senators and soldiers rescued some historic paintings from the Senate before the fire spread to it.
By 11:00 p.m. the Victoria Clock Tower had caught on fire, and by midnight the clock was silent. At 1:21 a.m. the tower fell.
By 3:00 a.m. the fire was mostly under control, although there was another outbreak the next morning.
The Centre Block was a smoking shell filled with icy rubble, with the exception of the Library of Parliament.
The Library of Parliament had been built with iron safety doors, which were slammed shut against the fire and smoke. A narrow corridor separating the Library from the Centre Block also contributed to the Library’s survival.
After the fire, the Victoria Memorial Museum cleared its exhibition galleries to make room for parliamentarians to meet and work. On the morning after the fire, the museum’s auditorium was converted into a temporary House of Commons Chamber, and that afternoon, members of parliament conducted business there.
Rebuilding the Parliament Buildings began quickly even though there was a war on. The first parliament sat in the new building on February 26th, 1920, although the Centre Block wasn’t completed until 1922. The Peace Tower was finished by 1927.
Great fire and rebuilding
The Centre Block the morning after the 1916 fireThe Centre Block burned in 1916; the edifice was entirely destroyed except for the Library of Parliament, whose treasures were preserved by a quick-thinking librarian who was able to close its massive, iron doors. The Centre Block was immediately rebuilt, being completed in 1920, with the Peace Tower, commemorating the end of the First World War, being completed in 1927. The new structure, designed by John Pearson and Omar Marchand, again embraced Gothic Revival, but also integrated the Beaux Arts ideas current at the time.
The Peace Tower is the most prominent part of the buildings. It replaced the 55-metre Victoria Tower, burned in the 1916 fire. Like the entire interior and exterior of the building, the tower is decorated with approximately 370 stone carvings, including gargoyles, grotesques, and freizes.
The centrepiece of the new buildings is the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block, which is notable for being the only place where Canadians can lie in state.
Since then there have been a number of significant incidents in the building’s history. In 1966 Paul Joseph Chartier killed himself in a Centre Block washroom while preparing to bomb the House of Commons. In 1989 Charles Yacoub hijacked a Greyhound bus and drove it up onto Parliament Hill.