The Railways of Ottawa

Finding No. 21   Railway Structures Destroyed (Mainly) by Fire

Brockville and Ottawa Railway Roundhouse 7 February 1870
Perth Courier 15 July 1870

Burning of the B. & O. R. R. Round House, Machine Shops, &c.
(From the Brockville C. Canadian)
It is our painful duty to chronicle the burning of the property of the Brockville & Ottawa railway, at Brockville on the night of Thursday the 7th instant. At about 9 p.m., the fire was discovered in the Store house, which is a building build of wood, running north from the Round-house and attached to it; this store-house was locked, and we understand that the fire was seen by the watchman some time before he had courage enough to break the door open. The fire engines were promptly on the ground and considering the difficulty of getting their hose to the place on account of the piles of lumber, were doing pretty well. As they were playing on the fire with some hope of extinguishing it, the locomotives were ordered out of the building and the hose had to be taken up and the fire engines ceased playing. Nearly 30 minutes were lost before commenced again [sic] and the fire by this time had reached the Round-house itself, and the whole of the building was a mass of flames. It was a magnificent and awful sight, the great fire lifting itself step by step and gathering fury at every step, the river like a mass of molten iron, the shipping seen amidst the flames like a forest of gaunt pines all combined to render the scene truly sublime. - Presently the roof of the Round-house gave away, and the fire seemed to increase in fury. The shipping moved from their stations. The little Prince Alfred got up steam and was sent to Ogdensburg for the steam fire engine. This, however, was not required, as the flames were got under [sic] after immense labor on the part of the fire companies.
The loss is estimated at about $50,000 but probably $100,000 would be nearer the mark. The machinery, one locomotive, several cars in a state of manufacture, together with much valuable property and a great quality of lumber were destroyed.

Too much praise cannot be given to Mr. Abbott the energetic manager of the B. & O. R., for his untiring exertions and labor on that eventful night. It is perhaps to be regretted that no engine or fire company belonging to the Brockville and Ottawa Railway has been organized, but no doubt it will be. Holly's patent force pump placed in a small steamboat would throw a very large stream of water over all the buildings and could be moved about to any point on the premises. These pumps are so powerful that in many places and they are the only waterworks, such is the case in Lockport, Ogdensburg, Auburn and many other places, and we commend a study of their excellence to the Mayor of the Town of Brockville and the Manager of the B. & O. R. R.

Almonte Gazette 16 July 1870


An Immense Loss to the Company.

It is our melancholy duty this week to record one of the most destructive conflagrations which has ever taken place in Brockville. On the evening of Thursday the 7th inst., a little before nine o'clock, the alarm of fire was rung out from the Court House bell. In a few minutes after, the whole heavens were illuminated by flames of the most lurid description, belching forth from the workshops and round house at the river side, belonging to the Brockville and Ottawa Railroad Company. When first seen the fire but of small dimensions, and was confined to the store house. The store house was situated near the round house, where some two or three of the hands were employed at the time. On discovering the fire every exertion was made to subdue it, and at one time it was thought that the danger was past. The nature of the material amongst which the fire originated, waste cotton saturated with oil, was such however, that it was speedily seen that the fire was likely to spread, and the alarm was consequently given, while every effort was at the same time being made to subdue the Hames, which still kept spreading wider and wider, till the workshops were wholly enveloped in one grand red glare of flame, followed soon after by the burning of the Round House.

The fire engines were soon on the ground, but in consequence of a train lying on the track, some time elapsed before they could be brought into play, and even when they were in proper working trim, great difficulty was experienced in getting men to work the brakes, as, although have three fire engines, there is only one organized company. After the firemen in attendance had worked themselves out, and no sufficient number of volunteers offering, and it being of the utmost importance to keep one engine going at least, an offer was made by H. Abbott, Esq., the active Managing Director, to pay the men by the hour for working at the brakes. This had the desired effect of securing a few hands, but the lesson again taught by such apathy in time of peril and danger is this—that the sooner a steam fire-engine is procured all the better for the inhabitants of the town. Human muscle, though ever so willing, will wear out, while steam will last so long as the engine is fed, and there is little or no trouble required - nothing beyond what a mere boy could attend to. Had there been a steam engine in town, in all probability the fire of Thursday evening would have been subdued before the Round House was touched, at all events before the workshops were destroyed.

The wharves all around the depot were covered with lumber, and it was miraculous how so little of it was consumed. Very fortunately before the fire broke out, a heavy rain had fallen, and a light rain continued to fall during the time the fire was in progress. But for this circumstance, we do not believe a single board of timber of the entire lot lying on the wharves would have been saved, and in that case the vessels loading the lumber would have been destroyed also. The rain and the breeze being rather down the river saved the lumber lying on the north side of the track, although about 50,000 feet on the south side were burned, as well as the wharf on which it was piled.

What the loss may be to the Railroad Company can scarcely as yet be known. The workshops, with their fine and expensive machinery, are entirely destroyed. The round house and turn-table, in which were several cars nearly completed, as well as a locomotive, are also destroyed. The loss probably will not be less than $100,000, which is only one-fourth covered by insurance.

There is no insurance, however, against the loss of work and tools by the hands employed, numbering about eighty. Hundreds were dependent on these men, and unless work is speedily found a great deal of suffering must be experienced. As to the intents of the company in respect to rebuilding, nothing is yet known, but in all probability the workshops will not again be located in such close proximity to the lumber—perhaps at the Junction, where land can be purchased at a reasonable rate.

The following is a portion of the property destroyed: 1 locomotive, 2 passenger cars and 7 box cars, all intended for the Canada Central Railroad; 1 sleeping car, half finished, 1 stationary engine, 50 car wheels, a large quantity of dried lumber, and about $8000 worth of Machinery.
— Recorder

Almonte Gazette 23 July 1870


In giving an account of the fire last week, we stated that the fire had originated amongst "waste cotton, saturated with oil." This was a mistake arising from misinformation, as there was no such material in the building. Mr. Jennings has charge of the store house, and a more correct or careful man cannot be found. He understands his business well and has always guarded against the collection of anything around him that would tend to germinate spontaneous combustion. The cause of the fire remains a mystery still, although it is generally thought now -that it must have been caused by a spark from a steamer or locomotive lodging somewhere about the store house. It is impossible for any public concern to be more carefully managed than the Brockville and Ottawa Railroad and its works, arising from the watchful care of the managing officers, which carefulness descends to the humblest workman on the road.


Updated 29 September 2021

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