The Railways of Ottawa

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

Canadian Pacific Perth Car Shops destroyed by Fire  5 July 1902.

Ottawa Journal  Saturday 5 July 1902

Perth shops of CPR burned.
A serious fire early this morning.
Blacksmith and machine shops and office were totally destroyed.  Watchman missing.

Perth,  Ont., July 5.- As a result of a disastrous fire at the C.P.R. car shops, Perth's chief industry, this morning 300 men are thrown out of employment. At four o'clock this morning fire was discovered in the blacksmith shop by Night Watchmen Roland Burr. Night Freman [sic] Dickenson and Burr quickly attached hose to a near-by hydrant.
In the meantime those attending the 4.17 C.P.R. train proceeding to Montreal noticed smoke issuing from the blacksmith's shop, and Mr. James Bain galloped his team to the fire alarms. Soon all the alarms in town were ringing. Before they were sounded, howevr, Mr. George King, who resides near the shops, saw the blaze and he went to the scene. He woke up a number of Italians who were sleeping in a near-by box car, and the men broke into the main office and were successful in getting out the majority of the books.
By this time the local volunteer fire brigade, as well as hundreds of citizens and employees of the shops, were at the scene. About a dozen lengths of hose were attached to the various hydrants in the C.P.R. yards and as many streams were playing on the buildings, but the waterworks pressure at first was very unsatisfactory, and the flames gained rapid headway.
The blacksmith shop was son [sic] consumed, and then the flames spread to the machine shop and then to the office, and the entire block of shops was a mass of flames. The local fire engine was then brought and two splendid streams were thrown. The flames had passed over to the large wood mill, in which cars are finished, and for a time it was thought the entire shops would go, but fortunately the flames were kept under. The damage done can hardly be estimated as yet, but it will be very heavy. The company carried its own insurance.
Night Watchman Burr cannot be found and it is feared he is a victim of the flames. He was seen entering the blcksmith shop by Dickson and King. Owing to the intense heat of the iron works in the fire it is almost impossible to search for the remains.

Ottawa Citizen Saturday 5 July 1902

Four officials of the C.P.R., Messrs. H.C. Timmerman, general superintendent: E.E. Williams, superintendent of rolling stock: A. Price, assistant supernitendent, and F.A. Fowler general car foreman, were in Perth this week on an official imspection of the C.P.R. car shops. Owwing to the lack of sufficient sidings at the car shops it was decided to put down several additional sidings immediately.  A large scale is at present being built at the car shops to weigh all cars built at the shops. Heretofore it was necessary to send cars to Toronto Junction to be weighed. The car shops are certainly kept busy and will be for some time to come.

Ottawa Citizen Monday 7 July 1902

Fire Caught Early Saturday Morning - It Had Gained Great Headway Before the Brigade Got to Work. Night Watchman Missing.

Perth July 5. - Undoubtedly the most severe blow dealt the town of Perth since its existence occurred in the early hours of this morning when fire completely destroyed a large part of C. P. R. car shops, ruined a large amount of valuable machinery and left three hundred of the town's citizens without employment. The C. P. R. authorities, however, have decided to immediately rebuild and with that end in view a large number of men went to work this afternoon to clear away the ruins of the fire and prepare the ground for the new building.
Shortly after four o'clock this morning fire was discovered in the blacksmith shop in the large frame building nearest the round house. The building was about two hundred feet long and fifty feet wide and included the blacksmith shop, machine shop, store and offices, the latter at the north end. The fire was first noticed by the night watch, Mr. Roland Burr, who informed Night Fireman Dickson of his discovery The two men attached the hose to the nearest hydrant and the water was turned on. Burr entered blacksmith shop and, strange to say, has not since been seen. Mr. George King, who resides a short distance from the shops, noticed smoke in the direction of the shops and ran to the scene. At that time, 4.05 o'clock, only a small hole was burned in the roof of the blacksmith shop. Mr. King was joined by others and an alarm was raised by blowing the whistle of a locomotive nearby. The local hotel night-men and several railway employes who were at the 4.17 C.P.R. express train were also attracted by the large volume of smoke and an alarm was given at the town hall fire alarm and later at the Knox church alarm. The fire had spread over the entire building and all was in flames when the firemen arrived with the hose reels. The C.P.R. yard is well supplied with hydrants and every available hydrant was used and soon as many as ten streams were being poured on the flames. At first the streams gave but little satisfaction and did not seem to have the least effect. The private waterworks of the C.P.R. was then pressed into service and proved, as was generally considered, of better service than the local system. The flames spread rapidly and the heat was intense. It was easily seen that it was impossible to save the building  and several streams were placed in the direction of the large wood mill where the cars are manufactured. The wood mill is situated south of the burned building and it was in flames at various places. It was the general opinion that the wood mill could not be saved from the flames, but the local fire engine, which has always done magnificent work in the past and is considered the better and safer fire protector, was brought to the Tay canal nearby, and in a few moments two very powerful and effective streams of water were playing on the burning wood mill. The change was easily seen and inside of fifteen minutes the wood mill was placed out of danger and the various streams were again played on the first building. At about six o'clock the fire was completely under control, but the firemen remained nearly all morning and the streams were kept playing on the heated mass of ruins. On the adjacent sidings were five cars loaded with car wheels, lumber and other material for the shops and these were completely destroyed.
In the wood mill are three tracks and these were lined with partly manufactured cars. One of the local shunters shunted these cars out of danger and willing hands pushed a large number of trucks to a safe location.
The car shops are Perth's chief industry and everyone is well pleased to know that the fire will in no way affect this great manufactory. The work of clearing. the debris is to be pushed on as rapidly as possible as will also the work on the new buildings which are to be erected.
This morning it was thought that Nightman Burr had been lost in the fire, but searchers in the ruins failed to discover any trace of the body and it is now thought that the man left the scene of the fire through excitement.

Ottawa Citizen Wednesday 9 July 1902

The C.P.R. has decided to reconstruct as soon as possible.and probably on a larger scale than before, the shops which were burned at Perth on Saturday. In the meantime, when the staff of employes were at their busiest turning out rolling stock, the loss and inconvenience is severely felt.

Canadian Railway and Shipping World August 1902

Perth shops.  The blacksmith and machine shops, oil house and main offices, together with a large quantity of machinery and some box cars, under construction, were destroyed by fire July 5.  The burned buildings will be rebuilt immediately.

Updated 28 October 2021

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