The Railways of Ottawa

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

Canadian Pacific Car Shed at the Chaudiere Burned 3 February 1890

Ottawa Citizen 3 February 1890

At one o'clock this morning fire broke out at in the car shed of the Canadian Pacific Railway nearest the northern end of the railway yard.  There were in the building at the time about fifteen passenger coaches, including the Government car "Ottawa" and Lady MacDonald's handsome special coach "Jamaica".  It was a quarter of an hour after the blaze  first broke out that a yard man pulled the alarm at box 18 corner of Broad and Queen streets.  By this time the fire had gained such headway that ere the reels were on the road, although all turned out promptly, the red glare of the flames was visible all over the city.  Hundreds of people, awakened from their slumbers by the rattle of the flying reels, looked out of windows and doorways at what appeared to be an immense conflagration in the most dangerous part of the city, the very midst of the lumber piles.  And so it proved to be.  A further delay was caused by the yard engine, which was shunting up and down endeavouring to pull the accessible cars out of the way of the fire, so blocking the tracks and preventing the reels from getting to the hydrants.  It was
when at length the first hose was coupled and the first stream directed on the burning mass, for the shed stood in the very midst of millions of feet of dry lumber.  On the western side of the shed stood the lumber owned by Mr. Barnes, of the box factory near by, was so close to the walls of the burning building as to leave scarce room for a person to pass, even had the great heat not made it impossible to have done so.  A few feet from the southern end of the shed is the large stable owned by Mr. John Rochester, and the fact that neither lumber piles nor stable received other damage than a slight scorching, speaks more than volumes of praise for the efficiency of the fire brigade.  Driver Tom Beatty's yard engine had done yeoman service for the company, for of the 14 coaches within the shed when the fire broke out , nine had been pulled out of the ruin and as many more had been standing on the side tracks leading into the shed.  This left four
and these, from the inflammable nature of their construction, gave forth an intense heat.  There is an extra strong pressure from the hydrants in this section and from these such volumes of water were poured on the flames, that in little over an hour they were pretty well drowned out.  It was impossible, of course, to save the car shed, as that, together with the cars within, was beyond hope when the brigade arrived.
The shed contains three parallel tracks and had under its roof about fifteen cars.  The furthest in the rear were the three passenger coaches and the private car "Jamaica" which were totally destroyed.  Next came the official car "Ottawa" which was pulled out and subjected to a heavy stream of water, but too late to save the coach from almost utter ruin.  This shed was used to house passenger coaches not immediately wanted and those undergoing repairs.  In some of these the heating apparatus is kept going and it is thought the fire was possibly carried by a spark or possibly by the overheating of one of these furnaces.
No official estimate of damage --three passenger cars at $8,000 each and the two official coaches at $18,000 each -- loss probably $60,000-$70,000.
So intense was the heat within the shed that the iron work of the cars, and even the steel rails, were melted and twisted in all shapes.  -- best bit of firefighting --

Ottawa Free Press 3 February 1890

Full account of the fire in the C.P.R. car shed.
--in the car shed at the time were fifteen cars and the government cars "Ottawa" and "Jamaica".--
West of the shed was the piled lumber belonging to Mr. Barnes of the box shook factory.
There was no prospect of saving the remaining four in the shed. --Three passenger cars and the car "Jamaica" were furthest in the shed.  The government car "Ottawa" was next and in the hope of saving it, it was dragged out and deluged with water.  The flames, however, had got too great a hold on it.--
From other sources it was learned that the loss through destruction of Lady MacDonald's private car would be about $15,000.  The car cost originally $20,000.  It was formerly used by Mr. Chapleau, when that gentleman led the Quebec government and when purchased by the Dominion government was fitted out in most luxurious fashion.  The "Ottawa", Mr. Schreiber's car is not wholly destroyed.  It is probably worth about $10,000.  The other cars destroyed consisted of two first class, Nos. 51 and 63 and two second class cars Nos. 73 and 49.  An official estimate put the loss at about $20,000.  They were not modern coaches but had been for some time in use.  The Governor General's car was in a dangerous position, but was brought out of danger without receiving so much as a scratch.
Skeletons of Cars.
The trucks of all of the cars are not seriously damaged, and will be available for use again.  The upper portions, however, are mere skeletons.  A charred and blackened skeleton is all that remains of the famous "Jamaica" car.  A great heap of carpets, rugs and blankets reposes on the tracks with fragments of metal and glass, the remains of the luxurious fittings.  One end of the "Ottawa" is a black and charred mass, but on three quarters of the car the varnish is still fresh, though almost every window is smashed; the chandeliers are lying in fragments inside, and the upholstery is begrimed with dirt inside.--

Ottawa Journal 3 February 1890

Destructive fire.

Probably $30,000 loss at the CPR station.
The passenger car shed, containing the Governor General's, Lady McDonald's and other special cars destroyed - six valuable carriages gone.

What had the appearance of being the forerunner of a devastating conflagration broke out this morning a few minutes before one o'clock at the CPR station.
At fifteen minutes to one No. 18  fire box rang the alarm, and with commendable alacrity all the brigades in the city were soon at the scene of action, where it was discovered that the fire had originated in the passenger car shed, containing at the time some fourteen fine cars, just adoining the station, and dangerously contiguous to the innumerable piles of lumber belonging to Messrs. Barnes of Rouses Point. Considerable delay was occasioned in the fixing of the leading line of hose by one of the hydrants being frozen, but that difficulty overcome, the men under the superintendence of Chief Young, began to put in effective work.
The flames in full headway.
By this time, however, the flames had got complete hold of the shed and its contents, and were assuming alarming proportions, and as the lurid tongues of fire leaps into the air, growing momentarily fiercer and more intense, the heavens became illuminated with a brilliancy which transformed the darkness of night into the brightness of noonday sun and which must have been visible within the radius of many miles.
No. 2 was the first to arrive, followed by the men of number 7, the new station of Dalhousie ward, and soon five lengths of pipe were laid and a copious supply of water pouring on the burning mass.
Valuable cars.
The shed in question was that the north end of the station and measured 200 feet by 40 feet. It was used for the housing and cleaning and repairing of cars. At the hour mentioned it contained quite a number of handsome and valuable carriages, whilst a great amount of rolling stock lay around at various distances from the shed, in all a total of about twenty cars.
Trying to get the cars out.
With great promptitude the station authorities set to work to remove the cars, but the flames spread with such rapidity and fierceness that the work had to be abandoned.
The "Victoria" saved.
Amongst the saved property, however, was the Governor General's car "Victoria." The "Ottawa" was caught by the fire whilst being rescued and is now a useless smoldering mess. Altogether six cars were sacrificed including Lady McDonald's "Jamaica" the car in which she made the trip to British Columbia, which resulted in her interesting sketches, the notes for which were made on the car.
A New Danger.
Running parallel with the shed separated only by a line of rails a lengthy freight train lay and as the flames grew in strength it was impossible to place one's hand against the cars without getting burned and scorched. This added a new danger, and attention had to be turned in that direction with satisfactory results. Surrounding the blazing fires were immense piles of timber which to the unaccustomed seemed bound to be doomed to destruction. These piles of wood are built close together and stand within a few feet not more than six in several instances around the blazing mess. Myriads of sparks and burning matter were flying in every direction. The firemen worked hard to save the piles and succeeded. The energy and courage with which they worked to confine the fire was spoken of by all who witnessed their exertion with admiration.
It soon became evident that the shed and its contents were doomed and the intense heat was one of the greatest difficulties the firemen had to contend with.
Steel rails twisted like shavings.
So bad did it become that the steel rails were twisted and turned like shavings of wood. Two lengths of hose were kept continually in the direction of the wood piles with good effect.
Fireman Lavelle injured.
Shortly after the outbreak a beam fell on fireman Lavelle, of No.7 station, injuring him somewhat severely. He was conveyed home. About three o'clock all danger was over and once more Chief Young and his gallant men were victors. It had been a hard fight and the victory was a glorious one.
The amount of damage cannot be reckoned yet but from a rough estimate the loss cannot be far short of $25,000 or perhaps $30,000.
No cause can be assigned for the origin of the blaze but the rumor that the overturning of a lamp had started it gained considerable credence by the crowd.
At 3 20 the work at the station was going on as usual, but where a few hours before some of the most luxurious traveling carriages ithe world knows had been under cover and now lay a smoldering mass of wood work and upholstery. The return blow was sounded at ten minutes to four.
The Scene Today
The JOURNAL again visited the scene of the disaster this forenoon when, in the broad light of day the full extent of the damage was seen at a glance, and the intensity and power of the ravaging element fully demonstrated. The aspect is one of utter desolation. The total loss is the destruction of the shed and two first class cars , two second class cars, Lady McDonald's coach "Jamaica" and the partial destruction of the car "Ottawa" which belongs to the government.
A careful though hasty estimate of the financial loss places the amount at $25,000 or $30,000, not more. No official inspection has yet be made and this estimate must be considered premature.
It is not known in the city today whether or not the loss is covered by insurance beyond the fact stated that neither Canadian no British offices are interested.
The origin of the outbreak is still clouded in mystery.
Praise is being awarded the officials and railway employees who worked hard and heroically to save property. There were 25 cars in the yard at the time.

Updated 18 October 2021

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