The Railways of Ottawa

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

Ottawa West Canadian Pacific Union Passenger Depot Burned 14 November 1895.

From the Ottawa Journal 14 November 1895

Ottawa Free Press 14 November 1895

The Canadian Pacific depot is in ashes.  It was the scene of a fierce blaze which raged from 6 o'clock this morning steadily for more than two hours.  The building was of wood and therefore of an inflammable nature affording every inducement for a big fire.
Full description.--
The C.P.R. depot was once before the scene of a conflagration but escaped the big conflagration at the Chaudiere a few years ago when the hotel opposite and many of the surrounding frame structures were destroyed.

Ottawa Journal 14 November 1895

Made a Wreck by an Early Morning Fire
Origin of the Blaze ar Present a Mystery
It Began About 6 a.m. and rapidly did its Work - narrow escape of the freight Sheds. The brigade Worked Well.

Four charred walls are all that stand to-day to show that there was once a  C.P.R. depot in Ottawa The building was almost totally destroyed by fire about six o'clock this morning.

The alarm was sounded a few minutes before six o'clock, but before the brigade reached the spot the building was entirely enveloped in flames, and past all hope of saving. The fight of the firemen was therefore simply one to prevent the flames spreading to the sheds and adjoining ears.

C.P.R. Constable Cowan, who was on duty last night, was the first one to notice the flames. He was sitting in the waiting room and noticed them break out in the north-west corner between the restaurant and the agent's room and at once ran to the box across the street and pulled an alarm. He had hardly time to get back before the whole north-west corner of the building was entirly enveloped in flames, and before the firemen could reach the spot the entire structure was burning fiercely. The fire by this time had also spread to the adjoining baggage room and was rapidly consuming the covered platform between the tracks. The fire fighters had there [sic] work cut out for them, but seem to have labored with a will and with good effect. The building, an entire wooden structure. as dry as tinder, burned fiercely. Long tongues of flames were shot high into the air and cast a glare on the clouds that was plainly visible for miles around. Burning shingles torn from the roof by the farce of the flames, together with sparks, were carried through the air long distances and started fires in more than one place and to prevent these small blazes becoming serious, gave the firemen their hands full.

Freight Building Caught.

The roof of the freight house, across the tracks, caught several times, and required the closest kind of attention from the brigade to prevent the flames spreading in this direction.

A general alarm having been sounded the entire force of firemen were on hand and were attacking the fire with 8 or 9 lines of hose. But the flames would be subdued in one corner only to break out in another quarter.

The ceiling and walls were of wood and the flames working between the inner and outer walls were most difficult to get at, and the fire was generally well under way before broke out on either side. Many times the firemen thought they had the fire subdued, only to find that it was burning fiercely between the partitions and would break out afresh. This kind of work continued for an hour or more and by shortly after seven the building was an entire wreck. A couple of streams were kept drenching the debris until half past nine o'clock.

As to the  Loss

It is hard to place an estimate on the loss. Almost everything in the building was burnt, or rendered useless by the water. Quito a larpe crowd of spectators, principally workmen on their way to the mills, witnessed the conflagration and would willingly have given a hand in saving the contents, but the intensity of the heat would not permit. A few articles of furniture were carried from the ladies waiting room and part of the equipment of the restaurant, but nothing to speak of was saved.

Operating Room Destroyed.

The operating room upstairs shared the fate of the rest of the building. Most of the instruments were destroyed and all connection with the twenty-four wires were broken. and the lines littered about in a tangle that apparently would take hours to unrvael

There were private records and papers in the office of the district superintendent, Spencer, that no amount of money can replace.

The large ticket case and records and papers in the ticket office went with the rest, and on these also it will be hard to place an estimate of the loss.

Baggage Destroyed.

The baggage room, in charge of Night Baggageman Downey, was filled with trunks and valises, and of these what were not consumed by the flames were rendered entirely valueless by the water. This department will furnish, one of the heaviest losses of the fire, and may possibly lead to any amount of entanglement between the railway company and the owner as to the value of the baggage. All the station night mail matter and the mails for early out-going trains were in the baggage room and only the partially burned remains of newspapes and letters show to-day where the mail bags were placed in the building.

When it became generally known, throughout the city that the station had been destroyed large crowds flocked to the scene of the conflagration. They witnessed a scene of confusion and disorder.

Pools of water lay on the platform ankle deep, and on it was piled up the remains of the baggage. Several policemen were in charge to protect this property and prevent the small boys and other members of the crowd carrying away articles that might be of any value. Men dived into the floor of the baggage room with sticks and fished out the crisp remains of trunks and garments and paper and placed them on trucks.

Wanted the Baggage.

"I want my baggage," said one man, and he produced three checks, and then ensued a search to ascertain if enough remained to give the woe-begone knight of the grip enough of his former possessions to hold an inquest.

"Every shirt I own was in that box," said another individual, with an expression on his face that plainly showed that he would not mind a change of linen.

"I don't know what I'll do for socks," said a third, while another lamented that he had hardly enough to carry him to the next town, let alone invest in paper collars and clothing.

Temporary Arrangements.

A baggage car was drawn up to the platform and temporarily served as a room for sorting baggage taken off to-day's train. Passengers who left by early trains were compelled to purchase their tickets on the trains from the conductors.

The origin of the fire seems a mystery. It was well on the way before being noticed and all the hands around the building were at a loss to account for it. Some put forward the conjecture that it originated around the furnace, but this theory does not seem plausible in view of the fact that the fire gained a good headway in another portion of the building.

Night baggage man Downey was reading a book in his room and the first intimation he had that a fire was in progress was the flames bursting through the wooden walls between the agent's and baggage room. They developed so rapidly that he was compelled to go out at once and could not get into the building again.

The Offices a Wreck.

The station building besides providing the usual waiting rooms and ticket offices, contained the offices of Chief Train Despatcher E.E. White, operators rooms, office of train master J. A. Robiliard, office of Chief Car Inspector Walker and the suite of offices of the Superintendent H.B. Spencer. Everyone of these loose [sic] a large number of papers and documents of considerable value, but a second search revealed the fact that the loss is chiefly confined to the very latest ones, which although of a considerable volume were not filed away. The papers and books that were in the desks and cases suffered badly from smoke and water, but when dried out will still be of use. The entire unopened correspondence of last night's mail, which usually numbers a hundred or more letters was lost.

Despatching Paralyzed.

Train despatching was paralyzed somewhat but not very long. A gang of men in short order rugged [sic] up an office in a freight car and made connections with the telegraph lines and had some instruments working in short order, while another crowd was stringing the remainder of the wires unto No 2 freight shed, a portion of which will be used until something permanent is done.

When the fire broke out there were six persons in the building, the two operators, T. Brown and W.A. Rose, night ticket agent L. Connell Constable Cohen, Baggageman Downey and George Johnston, restaurant Clerk.

Of the number only two or three had startling experiences. L. Connell, ticket agent, was asleep in his office when Constable Cowan discovered the fire and as soon as Cowan burst upon the agent's room it became filled with smoke. The policeman experienced some difficulty in arousing the man, and he had little enough time to get out.

The two train despatchers working on the second flat also had quite an escape, as the first warning they had wss when the flames burst into their rooms. As the stairs were all ablaze they crawled out of the window onto the roof, over the platform and from there to the ground.

The case of a man named Grant was a very hard one for him. He had intended to go to Michigan to-day accompanied by his family, and last night left two large trunks on the platform of the station.  On his arrival there this morning he found that they.had both been burnt. As he had some silverware in them his loss was considerable. He told the constable that he valued them at about $200. As the trunks were not checked he will have to pocket the loss himself.

All the windows and doors of the station were boarded up early this morning, and the curious crowd of sight-seers were compelled to view the blackened walls and what remained of the charred roof, from the outside.

The head office of the C.P.R. in Montreal were at once apprised of the event, and some of the company's officers were expected up from Montreal on this afternoon's train.

When spoken to by The Journal, Mr. H.B. Spencer was busy around the wreck and had no idea what, would be suggested to the officials. He seemed certain, however, that it was almost useless to think of incorporating any part of the remaining portion of the depot in a new structure if the C.P.R. decide to re-build on the present site. He had no idea of the loss sustained in regard to papers and records but  hoped that the most important were still intact in the desks and cupboards.

Montreal, November 14. - Mr. Suckling of the C.P.R. treasurer's office says that the loss y [sic] the Ottawa fire is fully covered by insurance, though the list is not now available. Probably temporary accommodation will be made in the freight shed. Mr. W.J. Spencer, superintendent, has gone up to arrange matters. The fire will have the effect of rushing the new Union station.

Ottawa Citizen 15 November 1895

Fire Wipes Out the Union Depot and Mr. C.W. Spencer Arrives to Size Up the Situation. The Central Station Scheme Under Consideration.

Passengers from the west had rather a warm reception at the C. P. R. station yesterday morning. When the Montreal express steamed in at six o'clock the station building was all ablaze. It made a furious fire. The structure, entirely of wood, burned up like a bon fire. The flames crept into every crevice of the woodwork, and in fifteen minutes after the night constable gave the alarm from the box across the street, the station was past saving.
There was a prompt response from the firemen, who laid hose from the three nearest hydrants. The pressure was excellent, and torrents of water were soon turned on to the station and the neighboring buildings, but it looked as if the best that could be done was to save the latter from ignition. This of itself was no easy task, for the embers flew in all directions, covering the roofs of the freight sheds and platform roofing. Several times the main freight shed, just across the tracks, took fire, but the watchfulness of the brigade prevented spread of the flames. An hour after the fire started it had cleaned out the upper portion of the station building and reduced the waiting rooms below, into a smoking ruin.
The Alarm.
Constable Cowan, who was on night duty at the station, first noticed the appearance of fire. The flames seemed to break out in the station master's office, adjoining the station building at the north. He turned in an alarm from the nearest box, ran back and roused up Ticket Agent Lawrence O'Connell. By this time the fire had caught the upper northern wall, between the office and the main station building. It was burning fiercely and the operators in the train despatcher's office, Messrs. Rose and Brown, had a lively time in gathering up a few office effects and rushing them outside. With the assistance that soon arrived, they managed to save considerable of the belongings of the company in the upstairs rooms. But the rapid advance of the fire soon cut off approach to the offices by the stairway.
The train despatcher's office, the offices of the district superintendent and the general offices in the upper flat of the main building were gutted, while the deluge from half a dozen hose lines drenched the waiting rooms, restaurant and ticket offices on the ground floor of the main building. The express office was burned, while the baggage room adjoining was pretty much destroyed by fire and its contents demolished by the flames or destroyed by water. Besides dozens of pieces of baggage, there were in the room a considerable quantity of railway appliances. These and all the mail posted in the public box during the.night were lost in the fire. The company's mail was lost, but when the ticket agent was notified of the fire he procured what morey there was in the office, $650, and one of his coats, and got out. As the fire is now known not to have started in the vicinity of the furnace in the basement, its origin is till a mere matter of conjecture.
 What Mr. Spencer Says.
Mr. C. W. Spencer, general superintendent of the eastern division, arrived in the city early last evening on his special car, "Rosemere." After viewing the state of affairs and roughly calculating the damage, Mr. Spencer stated to a Citizen reporter that, for the present, temporary repairs would be made to the building and in prder to provide accommodation for the offices completely destroyed, a structure would be erected between the station and the express building, some fifty yards on the west.
As to whether the building would be torn down and replaced by a new temporary station Mr. Spencer said that nothing was decided, yet in that regard. It would be next week before that would be known. However, he could state that, if a new station should be erected, the location would be changed, but it would still be in tihe same vicinity. The yards, in that event, would also undergo considerable alteration.
Bad Time to Build.
"It is very inconvenient," said he, "that the fire occurred at this time of year, for it would be difficult to make a good job of a new building now. The Canada Atlantic Railway Company very kindly offered us the use of their line to their Elgin street station, but we are so situated, that to make that circuit around the city would seriously interfere witih the working of our present schedule time bill."
Speaking furtlher about a new station, Mr. Spencer stated that it would take about four weeks to build one, should they decide to do so. The original cost of the station destroyed was $24,000, and: the. damage by the fire is estimated at $10.000.
Asked as to the probability of the C. P. R. running into the. projected central station, Mr. Spsncer stated that the time had not come for them to state their policy in that regard. At any rate, said he we will always have to maintain a station at the west end of the city for the accommodation of the public,
Mr. Spencer will return to-day to Montreal.

Ottawa Journal 15 November 1895

The statement of an evening paper that the wires of the uptown C. P. R. telegraph office were rendered useless by yesterday's fire at the Union depot is not correct. These wires do not pass through the depot, and there was no interference.

Almonte Gazette 15 November 1895

On Wednesday night the C.P.R. station at Ottawa was totally destroyed by fire, with all its contents. A box car has been temporarily fitted up as a telegraph office, etc. No particulars yey to hand. The origin of the fire is a mystery.
No decision yet on rebuilding the depot or whether CPR will run into Central depot.

Almonte Gazette 22 November 1895

The C.P.R. officers have decided to rebuild the C.P.R. depot at Ottawa destroyed by fire and a staff of men are now at work.

Ottawa Free Press 23 January 1896

The Canadian Pacific depot will be ready for reopening in a few days.  The carpenters have about finished and the painters are hustling the work consistent with a good job.  Mr. H.B. Spencer is doing everything to facilitate the comfort of travellers and hopes to have everything in good shape by Monday.

Ottawa Citizen 29 January 1896

The C.P.R. station recently burnt by fire was reopened yesterday.  The apartments which suffered have been fitted up in a better shape than before.

Ottawa Journal 29 January 1896

The C.P.R. station was re-opened again yesterday.

Ottawa Citizen 31 January 1896

The C.P.R. company officials are vacating the quarters occupied by them in the Ontario Chambers since the fire at the station, and taking up their offices again at the station.

Renfrew Mercury 7 February 1896

The C.P.R. moved into the new station on Saturday night last; and now the officials transact their business in both style and comfort.  The ladies waiting room is a ready handsomely carpeted, and will be curtained and otherwise "furnished."

Updated 23 July 2023

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