The Railways of Ottawa

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

Ottawa and Prescot Railway Sussex Street Storehouse Burned 7 May 1860

Note: Some newspaper accounts suggest that it was the Sussex Street station that burned. However, it seems that it was the storehouse that burned, not the station

The Union, Ottawa 9 May 1860

About four o'clock, on Monday morning, the Railroad Depot Buildings of the O. & P. R.R. Co., were discovered to be on fire by the Watchman in charge.  Before adequate assistance could be obtained, the buildings and four cars, loaded with freight, were consumed.  The loss is about $15,000, of which $5,000 will fall upon the R.R. Co., the remainder being stock of our City Merchants.  C?? Patterson is now engaged in an investigation as to the origin of the fire, and we ?? insinuating incendiarism pending the investigation.

York Herald  11 May 1860

Ottawa Railway Station Destroyed.
Yesterday morning about 4 o'clock, another fire occurred in Ottawa, by which the Railway Station, together with five cars of merchandize, were totally destroyed.  The station was of small size and not worth much, but the contents are said to have been valuable.  Mr. Hargreaves, of Hamilton, we regret to learn, has lost a large quantity of hams: and Mr. W.M. Mathieson, a barister of this city, who, intending to commence practice in Ottawa, had sent his law books forward, is also a sufferer.  The fire is thought to have been the work of an incendiary.  Two men employed in the erection of the new Parliament buildings have struck for higher wages, and, as the contractors resist their demands, have, it is said, threatened to burn the city.  To one of their number the destruction of the depot is attributed.

Ottawa Citizen 12 May 1860

Ottawa and Prescott Railway Depot Burned Down
About half-past four o'clock yesterday morning the bells from the tower of the Catholic Cathedral pealed forth the alarm of fire ; and soon those citizens, who promptly answered the dread summons, discovered that the temporary depot of the O. & P. Railway was in flames and rapidly being consumed. The delay in making the general alarm gave time for the devouring element to envelope the building in a mass of flame, through which it was impossible for those arriving to pass in order to save the valuable contents of the building. The night watchman in charge, however, succeeded in saving most of the account  books and papers in the freight office, which was situate in the eastern extremity of the building; with this exception little of value was saved from any portion of the building, in which a large quantity of goods had been stored. From the burning storehouse the flames soon communicated with a freight train numbering fourteen cars, and mostly filled with valuable merchandise which had been run up to the storehouse for the purpose of unloading. Soon as the cars took fire a determined effort  was made to remove them from their dangerous proximity to the burning building by those present; but, although the effort was in a measure successfull, four cars out of the fourteen were completely destroyed ere the work of removal could be completed. By this conflagration our city merchants and others have lost property to the value of over $10,000, and the Railway Company to the amount of not less than $5,000; on none of which was there any insurance. The $10,000, however, we are glad to say, is distributed amongst some forty individuals; and although falling heavily on not a few of them, still it is better than if the misfortune had to be borne by one or two. We are unable at present to particularise the different losses, or even to individualise the respective sufferers; but after investigation which is to take place today, we shall probably be in a possession of full particulars. That the fire wsa [sic] the work of an incendiary there seems to exist not the slightest reason to doubt, for the night watchman, who is an old and tried servant, asserts that no appearance of fire could be discovered  five minutes before the flames burst out. We regret to learn that several persons, instead of rendereing assistance in extinguishing the flames busied themselves in securing such articles of value as escaped the flames in a whole or partially damaged state. We hope a rigid investigation into the origin of this calamitous fire may be made to-day, and that the incendiary or incendiaries who applied the torch may be discovered and punished as the crime deserves.

THE FIRE INQUEST - The investigation instituted by coroner Patterson for the purpose of eliciting information concerning the burning of the Railway storehouse last Sunday night, has not yet terminated, although it has now been going on four days. We are told that the evidence thus far, without criminating any one, leads to the conclusion that the fire was caused by an incendiary. We forbear comment till the jury concludes their investigation.

The Tribune, Ottawa 12 May 1860

At an early hour on Monday morning the inhabitants of this city were roused from their slumbers by a cry of fire.  A glance in the New Edinburgh direction discovered to us that the fire was in or about the premises of the Ottawa & Prescott Railroad Company.  Proceeding to the spot we found the station buildings enveloped in flames.  It was evident that any attempt to save the buildings would prove fruitless.  The flames soon communicated to the cars of a freight train which was in close proximity to the station, and despite the efforts of the citizens to save them, four out of the fourteen were burnt before the train could be removed.  The Station House and cars were filled with valuable merchandise, and the loss incurred in consequence is very serious.  It is estimated at about $15,000.  This loss is distributed among several parties to whom the merchandise belonged.  The O. & P.R.R. Co. lose about $5,000.  There was no insurance on any of the property consumed.

Ottawa Citizen 19 May 1860

THAT FIRE INVESTIGATION - owing to the illness of Coroner Patterson, the investigation into the cause of the fire at the Railway Depot has been postponed

The Tribune, Ottawa 26 May 1860

The inquest into the late fire at the Railway Depot concluded its investigation on Saturday last, seven of the jurors returning a verdict of incendiarism, we presume, in the total absence of all proof as to the cause or origin of the fire.  Our contemporary, the Citizen gives the following version of the affair, requesting us to make a note of it a la Captain Cuttle:

Incendiarism: The jury empanelled to inquire into the origin of the recent fire at the Railway Depot have come to the conclusion that the said fire was the work of an incendiary.  Will the Tribune make a note of this?

Complying with all due courtesy with our contemporary's request, the only note-worthy point in this announcement is the significant suppression of the fact that five of the jurors refused, in the absence of all proof of the facts, to return a verdict not in accord with the evidence before them.  It would have been more ingenuous on the part of the Citizen to have declared at once the true state of the case, as better suited to the interests of the city, even if he had committed himself to a foregone conclusion as to the cause of the fire, which it is evident he arrived at by the same delightful process of induction as the seven intelligent jurors.  If it would not be too much troublesome a task our contemporary had better give the evidence on which those lights of the age founded their decision, especially as the incendiary is represented by that convenient person, Mr. Nobody.
The principal witness on the occasion was the watchman at the depot.  His evidence amounted to the fact that the fire originated in the store immediately adjoining the ticket office, in which he kept watch, and had a drunken friend reposing at the time. In the said store there were some fifteen barrels of big wines leaking, and at least one barrel of camphene or burning fluid; and in making his usual rounds, the watchman had been in the store with a lantern some short time previous to the fire being discovered.  It is hardly necessary to go into his statement further than to notice the fact that some five or six minutes previous to the outbreak of the fire three men came on to and passed along the platform on which the stores and offices were situated, and passed the watchmen, walking at a rapid pace.  He states he followed them for some seventy yards, and on his return saw smoke issue from inside the store, his friend the drunken man being profoundly asleep all the time.  A smart explosion followed and he endeavoured to save the books of the establishment, in which he was successful.  As regards the three men, he says he heard their steps from the moment they put foot on the platform, a distance of fully two hundred feet where he sat at the door of the Office, and it is hardly likely they could be setting fire to the store within thirty feet of him, without hearing or being aware of their proximity.
We are perfectly alive to the loss sustained by the Railway and the public on this occasion, and sincerely sympathize with both; but it is a false pohey to jeopardize the good name of a community for the purpose of screening the mismanagement, carelessness, or misfortune of individuals, such conduct being alike injurious to private as well as public interests, affecting the credit of out business men and bringing the character of the city into contempt.
The public have no reason to be satisfied with the result of the inquest or the consequences likely to flow there from; and we trust the President of the Railway, as well as the Mayor of the city, will take such steps as will throw more light on this mysterious occurrence, in which the hand of an incendiary cannot be traced.  The evidence given before the coroner furnishes groundwork for a searching investigation by parties unprejudiced by local feelings; and it is as necessary for the fair fame of the city, the character of the Railway management, and the prospects of our businessmen, that such inquiry should be neither delayed or obstructed.  The city authorities should take immediate steps in the matter, as the affair is now in as unsatisfactory state as before the investigation.
We repeat again that there is so far not a shadow of evidence to warrant the conclusions arrived at.  Of this the Citizen may make as many notes as he pleases.  At the same time we would recommend the perusal of the moral law bearing about false witness, to his consideration.

Updated 5 March 2022

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