The Railways of Ottawa

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

Canada Atlantic Casselman, South Indian and Cheney Stations and Nation River Bridge 5 October 1897

Ottawa Journal 5 October 1897

Fire at Casselman, trains delayed, fire fighting equipment sent by train.  More.
Also covered in the Ottawa Free Press 6th October 1897.

Ottawa Citizen 6 October 1897

Castelman, South Indian and Cheney's Station a Mass of Ruins. Moosse Creek Likely to be Destroyed. Farmers Barely Escape with Their Lives.

Eastman's Springs, Oct. 5. The bush fires that, have been raging in the vicinity of South Indian for some days became positively serious early this morning, and by noon had reached the serious proportions of a conflagration which threatens to devastate the entire district.
Already South Indian, Cheney's Station and Casselman have been wiped out by the fire, and the flames are still rapidly advancing eastwards. Where the destruction will stop heaven only knows, for although at this writing 11 p.m. a gentle rain is falling, latest reports from the east are to the effect that the bush east of Casselman is a mass of waving flames.
The fire reached South Indian about 2 o'clock to-day, and in a few minutes, so fierce were the flames, the village was one mass of fire. The inhabitants were not able to save anything. Ineed they were obliged to run for their lives
The story of the destruction of Casselman was given The Citizen by Mr. J. Sage, of Ottawa, one of the passengers on the train from Montreal due in Ottawa at 1.40, and which passed through here late to-night.
Mr. Sage stated that the train, of which Mr. R. Pease was the conductor, reached Casselman about 11.45. Everybody on board knew that a serious fire was raging, for the air was thick with smoke, and cinders. However the engineer did not anticipate any trouble in reaching Ottawa, and steamed out of Casselman on time. But about two miles west of the village the train was flagged, and when it had been brought to a standstill the conductor was informed by a section-man that the fire had destroyed South Indian and that further progress would be fraught with the greatest danger. They could hear the roar of the flames at the time.
"And within an hour," continued Mr. Sage, "we were forced to retreat and Casselman was on fire. The grist mill caught first, from a flaming branch, but soon half a dozen buildings were ablaze. . The villagers saw the place was doomed and hurriedly collected their valuables together and buried them. Then they got out on rocks in the middle of the Nation river. Another hour and the bush in the immediate vicinity was one mass of seething flame. When nearing the train the fire providentially spread in a circle and we were able to run to safe ground before the bush nearest us took fire
"I tell you it was an awful sight," said Mr. Sage, "and I never want to see another like it, on every side but one were veritable billows of fire. 
"I have no doubt a number of people met their death for several were missing at Casselman when we left tonight. Moreover, just before the fire reached that village farmers who drove in reported the woods to be ablaze for miles, and expressed tbe opinion that more than one would be unable to reach a place of safety before being overtaken by the fiery element."
Mr. Sage has nothing but words of praise for the train officials and tbe section men of tbe road, who worked indefatigably to place the track in a safe condition. As the bridge over the Nation at Casselman has been damaged it is not likely tbat there will be any traffic on the road east of Casselman to-day.
Particulars as to tbe burning of Cheney's station have not yet been received, but it caught early in tbe day. The residents proceeded to Rockland for safety.
Fully two hundred families have been rendered homeless by the conflagration and any assistance given by the people of Ottawa and surrounding places will be gladly received. Indeed, aid must be forthcoming at once, for the people are now without even the necessities of life.
Casselman included about seventy-five or a hundred houses, a lumber mill, grist mill, furniture factory, and several other business places of importance. Tbe population is about 500.
South Indian, eight miles to tbe west and nearer Ottawa,comprised about sixty houses two saw mills and two general stores. Tbe residents numbered about three hundred.
Cheney's Station, situated on tbe Rockland branch of the C.A.R., included fifteen to twenty dwellings, and a general store.
The Boston train reached here on time, but returned to Ottawa, when it was learned that further progress was impossible in view of the damaged condition of the track, since repaired.
An official of the company stated tonight that men were working at the bridge, at Casselman, and tbe damage to it and the track would be completely repaired by to-morrow afternoon.
The C. A. R. Comiany, with a philanthropic spirit, gave ready assistance last night to the homeless families. Mr. A. W. Fleck and Mr. John Smith engaged quite a number of expresses to go around tbe bakeries in the city and purchase as much bread as possible. About 200 loaves were procured, and these, with large quantities of cheese and butter, were sent down the line on a special train late last night.

New York Times 6 October 1897

CANADIAN VILLAGE IN FLAMES.; Fire at Casselman Blocks the Canadian Atlantic Railway.
Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 5. The village of Casselman, thirty miles southeast of here is reported to be in flames.  The fire caught on the bushes surrounding the village, and no trains can pass either way.
All telegraphic and telephone communication with the village has been cut off. Since early this afternoon all trains leaving here on the Canada Atlantic Railway are cancelled.  Three years ago the village was burned down.  Application was made here for assistance from the fire brigade, but none could be sent.

Ottawa Journal 6 October 1897

Fire at Casselman and South Indian.  Bridge at Casselman badly damaged and trains delayed. Station and water tank at South Indian destroyed.  A special gang of men at Booth's mill were set to work to cut timbers and a gang of 100 men were rushed to the site to put the bridge into shape for traffic.

New York Times 7 October 1897

FOREST FIRES NEAR OTTAWA.; Villages of Casselman, South Indian, and Cheney Almost Annihilated -- Four Bodies Recovered.
OTTAWA, Ont., Oct. 6. -- Fierce forest fires are burning along the line of the Canada Atlantic Railway, in the neighborhood of Casselman, South Indian, and Cheney. The fire includes so far an area twenty-five miles square.
At South Indian, which has a population of about 400 or 500, there are only three or four houses left standing.  Four bodies have been recovered there.  These are those of Mrs. Leveille, Miss Stiles, her sister and Mre Leveille's two children, one an infant and the other twelve years old.  Thw woman rushed from her house to escape to the clearing, but the smoke surrounding them, they lost their way and ran into the flames.  Had they remained in their dwelling house, they would have been perfectly safe, as it was not touched by the fire.
Trains on the Canada Atlantic Railway have not been able to reach Casselman today.  The Nation River, a small stream, passes through Casselman, and the woodwork of the iron bridge over it has been burned down.  Details of the damage done are still meagre.
A train which arrived at noon yesterday from Montreal, bound for Ottawa, was kept dodging the fire all night, and reached Ottawa safely this morning. The train got over the bridge at Casselman before the fire made its appearance.
Two or three miles on the Ottawa side of Casselmanit was stopped by a section man, and a little later the whole bush in front was in flames.  An attempt was made to get the train back, but by this time, the fire started at Casselman and the bridge was burned down.  A relief train from Ottawa worked the Montreal train out early this morning.  The people of Casselman, about 500, were reported as huddled together on rocks on the river, without sufficient clothing or anything to eat.
Assistance is being forwarded to the homeless from Ottawa, and a fund has been started. Mr. Belcourt, M.P. for Ottawa, who was a passenger on the train which reached here to-day, gave $100.  Over sixty of the most destitute victims were brought to the city this afternoon, and the others are being provided for at farmhouses and elsewhere.

Ottawa Citizen 7 October 1897

The Russell County Conflagration
Five Burned to Death
Scenes of desolation along the C.A.R.
South Indian, Casselman and Cheney's Station in Ruins. Sad Circumstances Under Which the Fatalities Took Place. Women in their Fright Leave their House and Meet Their Death while the House was Untouched.

Exerpts only
A representative of The Citizen yesterday visited the scene of desolation and misery. About noon word was received that a special train would leave the Central station for Casselman at twelve o'clock. The train was composed of an engine and the private car of Mr. E. J Chamlerlain, general massager of the C.A.R. The party on board consisted of Mr. Chamberlain and several members of the press.
Shortly  betore the train left a relief train, sent out in the morning, drew into the station. It had on board about 75 refugees from the devastated district, for whom the C.A. R. furnished free transportation that they might either reach friends and relatives in the city and district, or at least obtain shelter and food. Their appearance prepared the pressmen for the sad sights they witnessed at the scenss of the fire. There were old men and women driven from the homes where .they had  expected to pass their few remaining days, tearful mothers and weeping children. Some gave every evidence of having been carried from sick beds. A young woman leaned heavily on the arm of a young man, a brother, or husband, or perhaps lover. She was evidently ill, walked with difficulty, was pale and emaciated. The faces of all were black with the smoke and cinders, and some were seen with faces burned red by the heat. They were all illy-clad [sic], and had probably escaped from their burning homes with nothing more than they had on them at the time. Some had coats and the clothes of others were disfigured with holes burned by sparks. One old woman was noticed wearing man's overcoat, and a stiff felt hat. Many carried bundles that represented all their earthly goods.The articles saved served to show the character of the people. Two carried framed pictures of saints, and illuminated prints of the Lord's prayer. Others were seen with bundles of silver table ware, and other articles of personal value to the owners.
The whole party were tired and exhausted with eyes sore and reddened by the smoke. Burned out on Tuesday afternoon they had spent the night huddled in the open fields.
- - -
First Evidences of the Fire - South Indian Desolate.
Mr. Chamberlain's train left shortly after twelve o'clock, and a rapid run was made as far as Casselman. About five miles from Ottawa the first evidences of the fire was seen. Here and there along the track and in the fields were burned patches. In the distance to the southwest dense clouds of white smoke could be seen long before Eastman's Springs were reached. Fire had not touched that village, but the smoke of fires could be seen in the vicinity. Between Eastman's Springs and Bearbrook the fire had in several places crept up to the track, but its ravages were not severe. The evillage [sic] of Bearbrook had a narrow escape being protected on the south and west by a belt of hard wood. The fire surrounded the village, and the bush, fences and farm buildings on the outskirts were destroyed.
From two miles east of Bearbrook onward the destruction is complete. What a few hours before was a smiling country clad in the crimson clothing of autumn, is now charred and blackened waste. The barns garnering the season's crops were destroyed, rendering the industrious settlers destitute, and forcing them to begin again the hard struggle to extract a precarious livelihood from the stubborn soil. Along the railroad on both sides are the blackened woods. Many trees are lying prostrate, many standing are like huge torches. In many places the flames spread to the tracks and began to burn the railway ties. Beyond Eastman's all telegraphic communication was cut off. The poles were burned and the wires were seen lying on the ground. Here and there beside the tracks were to be seen long streaks of white ashes six or eight inches deep, all that remained of thousands of corIs of wool belonging to farmers in the district. In this one item alone the loss of the farmers is immense and one can scarcely venture an estimate of it.
- - -
South Indian is a sad and desolate ruin. The entire village is burned.
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The C.A.R. lost eight freight cars and the station
- - -
Rev. Hugh Mclean Tells The Citizen about tbe Fire There.
The village of Casselman was situated on both sides of the river Nation. The station was in North Casselman, but the largest number of houses and the mills were all in South Casselman. It was a compact, progressive village of about 100 bouses and 500 souls. All that remains of it now is a blackened level field.
In the part called North Casselman tbe number of buildings burned is not large. The Canada Atlantic station and freight shed are both destroyed. The brick factory and dwelling house of Henry King are burned, as well as the house of Roderick McLeod, and besides these there are a number of other losses.
- - -
Good Work Done by the C.A.R.. -Their Philanthropy.

The C. A. Railway Company lost heavily around Casselman. Not only was their station destroyed, but their bridge over the Nation was badly damaged.
The wooden stringers on the bridge were burned, making it impossible to run trains across it  A large gang of men was put to work, and at. 9 o'clock last night the train from Montreal due at 8.35, passed over it. Directly after, the 6.45 train for Montreal, which was awaiting at Casselman the arrival of the Ottawa train, also crossed the bridge.
The Ottawa train, which was in charge of Conductor Campbell, who had Mr. S.Checketts for engineer, arrived in Ottawa at 10.30.
During tbe day the C. A. R. Company sent down large supplies of food for the sufferers. Twenty hundred loaves of bread, six barrels of pork, two bags of bacon, six caddies of tea, three barrels of sugar, two hundred pounds of butter and one hundred pounds of cheese were sent down. The company also performed many other acts of kindness which will not soon be forgotten by the sufferers and citizens of Oltswa.

Further account in the Ottawa Free Press of the same date.

Ottawa Journal 7 October 1897

More details on the fire --
The big bridge on the C.A.R. took fire during the afternoon and was much damaged.  The stringers and ties were nearly all burned off and the bridge rendered totally unsafe.  Mr. M. Donaldson, mechanical foreman, had a special wrecking train sent down during the morning with new timbers for the bridge.  Men were at work all day on the bridge, and it was passable by yesterday evening.  More.
The station at Casselman also burned.

Ottawa Citizen 8 October 1897

The Fire Sufferers' Wants
Lumber and BeddingThe First Articles Required in the Burned Villages
How The Homeless Hundreds Spent Wednesday Night. City Council Grants $1,000 and Also Makes and Appeal to Other Cities in the Province.

Exerpts only

There ia no improvement in the condition of the homeless suffers by fire at South lndian, Cheney and Casselman. On the arrival in South Indian of the train from Ottawa yesterday morning, the passengers were met by fifty or sixty of the burned out villagers. They all appeared cold and hungry, and sleepless, and had evidently passed the night in great discomfort. One of the greatest difficuties has of course been the feeding of the several hungry mouths, and this work has been accomplished with more than ordinary thoroughness by the officials of the Canada Atlantic railway. Everyone is loud in praises of the generosity and thoughtfulness of the company, and, more than anyone else, they have been successful in allaying suffering, the railway company are about the only relief organisation in the field, and too much can hardly be said in praise of their promptness, Food supplies are sent down by nearly every train fiom Ottawa, and Mr. W. C. Edwards. M.P.,also sent a supply of bread, about 100 loaves from Rockland. The interior wants of the sufferers are thus supplied with tolerable completeness, but there are other wants almost as great. Few were able to save anything from the flames, so raipidly did the fire advance. and have now nothing more to wear than the clothes they have on at present. Tuesday, the day of the fire was a warm day, and not many were dressed in clothing warm enough for the cold weather that set in on the night of the fire. Besides this many of .the men, who were busy fighting the fires to keep them from the villages, little thinking their own dwellings would soon be destroyed, left tbeir coats at home on amount of the intense heat. This accounts for tbe fact that some are coatless, or wear the misfit garments of some kindly neighbor, who by some fortunate chance saved more than one coat. The people then are truly suffering from tbe want of sufficient clothing, and all day yesterday, lonely, disheartened, cheerless men and women were walking about, tbe remains of their houses, blue and shivering from the cold. "This is the only coat I have. and a neighbor gave me this one," a teamster in South Indian said as he pointed to his coat whose sleeves were too short by several inches.
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At South Indian and Casselman yesterday the sufferers wandered disconsolately about, or grubbed among the ashes in vain search for artiicles that had escaped the fire's ravages. In the morning they gathered about the cars belonging to the C.A.R. containing tbe provisions, and received their day's allowance..Each applicant stated for what number of persons he wished food, and loaves of bread, tea, bisuits, butler, cheese and canned salmon were dealt out to him. At several places groups were seen gathered about fires near their old homes, brewing their tea and eating their meagre meal. Most of them are thoroughly despirited and dejected.
- - -

Eastern Ontario Review  8 October 1897

Villages of Casselman, South Indian and Cheney entirely destroyed.
Full account
The passenger train, which left Montreal on Tuesday morning was hemmed in with the fire all Tuesday and night and only reached Ottawa Wednesday morning.
J. Sage was one of the passengers in the train. Mr. Sage stated that the train of which Mr. Pease was the conductor, reached Casselman about 11.45. Everybody on board knew that a serious fire was raging for the air was thick with smoke and cinders.
However, the engineer did not anticipate any trouble in reaching Ottawa, and steamed out of Casselman on time. But two miles west of the village the train was flagged, and when it had been brought to a stand the conductor was informed by the section men that the fire had destroyed South Indian and that further progress would be fraught with the greatest danger. They could hear the roar of the flames at the time.
"And within an hoour," continued Mr. Sage "we were forced to retreat and Casselman was on fire.
Another hour and the bush in the immediate vicinity was one mass of seething flame. When nearing the train the fire previdentially spread in a circle and we were able to run to safe ground before the bush near us took fire.

Ottawa Citizen 11 October 1897

Nearly a Thousand Went Down on the Excursion to Casselman Yesterday. Tents Pitched for the Villagers. Building Operations Commenced.

For the sake of "dear charity" over eight hundred and fifty Ottawa, citizens took in the Canada Atlantic excursion to Casselman yesterday. There were eleven crowded cars filled with all sorts and conditions of men. Two newspaper men counted the passengers on the train and made out the exact number as 855, so that the relief fund is the larger by that number of dollars.
On the way to Casselman a stop of about twenty minutes was made at South Indian. Here the cars were emptied and the people had their first glimpse of a fire swept village. The deserted village streets were soon filled with larger crowds than they probably ever had before. Some commiserated with the unfortunate villagers, and others scraped among the ashes in search of souvenirs.
At Casselman a longer stay was made. There the Ottawa people found that a similar excursion had been run from Rockland. The Rockland excursion was contained in five well filled cars, and the proceeds will likewise go to swell the fund for the relief of the impoverished villagers.
At Casselman the vacant streets and ruins were soon overrun by the crowd of curiosity and relic hunters. The ashes and debris of the houses were thoroughly searched and many interesting articles were found, many found half melted spoons, knives and forks, which they carried off as valued relics. The ruins of the Roman Catholic church were the greatest attraction to those in search of souvenirs. A crowd worked the ashes over and over again. Several crosses, medals and amulets were found. The melted remains of the church bell was also discovered, and broken into two or three score pieces was carried off, to be treasured by the holders as reminders of this great devastation.
The success of the Ottawa excursion is owing largely to the generosity of the officials of the C A.R., which has already done so much to relieve the hardship caused by the fires.

Updated 4 October 2021

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