The Railways of Ottawa

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

27 July 1897 - Canadian Pacific Car Shops Carleton Place

Ottawa Journal 28 July 1897

Fire broke out in the C,P.R. workshops here last night at 8.30.  The building occupied as a carpenter shop, with all the tools, also one containing a large quantity of dry lumber, were consumed.  One end of the coal shop was also destroyed.  Loss not estimated yet.
Also reported in the Ottawa Free Press same wording.

Almonte Gazette 30 July 1897

The C.P.R. Shops Ablaze, But the Flames Subdued Without Great Damage - Loss About $2,000.

Almonters were agitated on Tuesday night when they saw a great red reflection in the sky in the direction of the junction town. The cause is given in the following, written in true Central Canadianic style:
Shortly after eight o'clock last evening terrific whistling from several locomotives and from the shops told the tutored ear that a fire was underway at these buildings, and as the learned ones in startled tones gave the alarm, there was soon a wild rush in that direction. In a few minutes the air was illuminated and the vault of the heavens ablaze with the reflection. At the hour mentioned Mr. Geo. Hawley, driver, sitting on his engine, saw a puff of blaze in the carpenter shop and instantly gave the alarm with his whistle. Mr. Thos. Rigby at the engine in the shops caught the signal and hurled its potent and well-trained voice into the air. Then the bells up town repeated the fiery refrain. Every railroader knew well the portent of the sounds, and, dropping his occupation, sped along the lurid path of duty. Early on the spot was Capt. John Rigby, of the shops' brigade, and in methodic haste he got his panting team into shape with a couple of streams. Meanwhile the Ocean Waves turned out in what could be called glorious array. Every man was at his appointed place. Unfortunately the hour was destitute of horses for the engine, so that the men were compelled to buckle the harness of endeavor on themselves and haul the giant mass of iron and steel through the rain-soaked, unlighted streets to the McLaren yard, whence, in the briefest spell, they issued two powerful streams. The carpenter shop consumed briskly. It was but a few yards from the main shops, and to save these was the almost superhuman aim of the men. Against the noble effort also was the wind, which blew from the south directly upon these buildings, and which carried not only intense heat, but a sky full of sparks. However, while the two brigades fought with water others pulled away the inflammable material connecting. One of the most thrilling scenes was the entrance of the shunter into the burning area, coupling to a locomotive whose cab was burning briskly, and hauling it and several cars out of the jaws of destruction. Before this event many cars were taken out of the danger lines and put into secure sidings. Every man did something of vital importance, on the ground or on the tops of the buildings with pails of water. The carpenter shop with its wealth of men's and the company's tools, soon became a mass of charred cinders, not a single tool-chest was saved. As its life was dying, it gave birth to a new fire in the lumber storehouse, and this was quickly a hot centre, its supplies of prepared car top roofing and oak timber going up in smoke, except what the men were able previously to snatch out. In all four streams were employed, and it was well upon midnight before there was full relaxation. The water supply was abundant till 10:30. Mr. Welsh was not at the pump house at the alarm, but he hurried to his task and kept pumping all the lifelong night. There are several tanks on the grounds connected with each other, and as all were full, the supply was inexhaustible practically. Both Mr. Elliot and Mr. Fulton were away from town, but Mr. Dixon was there all alert, energized for the epoch, the man for the emergency. Mr. Begley was also here and there and all over, aiding brilliantly by precept and example. The hills on the east side, the platforms, the piles of timbers and the passenger coaches made fine observation points, and were all crowded. The stores in town went shut with a click when it was known the shops were on fire. The end of the coal chute was on fire several times. The new shops were not touched; indeed were not in danger a single moment, though one can scarcely imagine how far north the fire would have torn its way had the old main buildings caught. It is possible the freight shed might have been involved. No one can say what started the fire. Mr. Hurdis and his family was sitting nearby on the grass, and he agrees with Mr. Hawley that there was an explosion and the whole carpenter shop was on fire. It was very likely, however, to have been a spark from a locomotive. The greatest sympathy is felt for the carpenters who lost their outfits. Among them we can recall are Messrs. John Willis, foreman, Robert McLenahan, Alex. McLaren, James Jackson, James Nolan and Thos. Carson. One Carpenter got home from work just as the alarm sounded. Two box cars just completed were in the shop and were lost. Had the new shops not been underway citizens would have viewed the fire with the deeper concern. Mr. MacMillan was cut in the head by flying boards at the storehouse. The doctors inserted two stitches. The whole fire was beautifully managed. There wasn't a hitch. The rain of the day was a valuable help. The loss to the company would be less probably than $2,000.

Almonte Gazette 8 August 1897

The C.P.R. Co.'s loss by the fire at Carleton Place last week amounted to $7,200 and the loss of the men's tools would bring the total to $8,000.

Almonte Gazette 15 October 1897

The new C.P.R. shops at Carleton Place will be ready for occupancy next week.
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Thre are over 7,000 panes of glass in the new C.P.R. shops at Carleton Place.

Updated 8 October 2023

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