The Railways of Ottawa

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


Canada Atlantic Elgin Street Roundhouse Burned 3 August 1899.

Ottawa Citizen 4 August 1899

An old landmark and a relic of the days when the Canada Atlantic railway first gained access to the city was destroyed yesterday afternoon by fire which broke out shortly after 3.30 o'clock.  The building was the old wooden roundhouse of the company, lately used as a workshop, just across from the old depot.
The fire started in a pile of shavings at the eastern end of the building and just in rear of the boiler house which contained the engine used to operate the machinery in the shop.  The fire was noticed by nearly all the employees in the building at the same time and the company's hose was put to work at once and an alarm sounded from box 134, corner of Argyle avenue and Elgin street.  On Chief Provost's arrival he saw that there was great danger of a bad fire and pulled the second alarm.  By this time, although the sections of the brigade then on hand had got down to work, the fire spread with lightning rapidity on the oil-soaked walls and attacked a train of about nine freight cars which were standing on an adjacent siding.  Lurid flamed and volumes of inky black smoke, rolled up in columns of imposing grandeur and attracted a large crowd.
The Lafrance engine on its arrival was taken to the bridge across the canal leading to Ottawa East and the big intake pipes dropped over the railway into the canal.  Two lines of hose were then attached and a full head of steam turned on, and in a few minutes two magnificent streams were being turned on the flames from the engine.  Six other streams from neighboring hydrants were utilized, but the building continued to be consumed like tinder for some time.
A locomotive was attached to the burning freight train but the chief saw that the cars already on fire might ignite others if hauled into the yards, so the order was given to have the train left where it was till the fire was extinguished.
About half an hour after the alarm was turned in the firemen began to get the better of the fight and in an hour and five minutes the return blow was struck.
The building is a complete wreck but owing to the fact that the immense quantity of water thrown kept the valuable iron and metal work inside comparatively cool the damage will be considerably less than was at first supposed. The principal machines of value in the building were an axle lather, a wheel press, boring machines and drills, and the engine and boiler used in operating them.  There were also five forges and a large quantity of car wheels, trucks, springs and car fittings which if course will not be much damaged.
The burning rolling stock consisted of four Grand Trunk cars, one Philadelphia and Reading car, and one C.A.R. stock car, containing lubricating oils.  The others were all loaded with new wheels to be used at the construction shops.
The loss on cars will be about $3,000 as the company will receive $250 for the trucks returned to the other roads.  The cars are covered by a blanket policy of assurance.  When new these cars were valued at $650.  The loss on the building and machinery will be about $5,000 making a total of $8,000 which is covered by insurance.
There were twenty men employed in the building principally machinists.  Some of the latter lost their coats which they had left off to work, so fast did the flames spread.  Mr. Gait, the engineer off the stationary engine, lost a $10 bill which was in the pocket of his coat.
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The trucks of the train of burned freight cars were hauled away from the side of the destroyed building as soon as the fire was extinguished.
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Ottawa Journal 4 August 1899

The old CAR roundhouse, latterly used as a work and repair shop, situated on Argyle Avenue between the canal and Elgin Street was completely gutted by fire between three and four o'clock yesterday afternoon. Several freight cars nearby were destroyed and some iron railway appliances and implements damaged.  The loss which amounts to between $7,000 and $8,000 is fully covered by insurance.  The blaze originated in the engine house at the west end of the building.

Ottawa Citizen 5 August 1899

The damage by fire at the C.A.R. yards by Thursday's blaze in the old roundhouse will be much larger than at first estimated.  The iron work which was contained in the building was very much damaged and it is thought the loss will amount to between $15,000 and $20,000.

Updated 19 October 2021

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