The Railways of Ottawa

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

Canada Central, fire during construction of the line in 1870 caused extensive damage in the area - August 1870

Almonte Gazette 20 August 1870

BELLS CORNERS BURNED - We learn that the village of Bell's Corners, near Ottawa has been wholly consumed by fire and that several people were burned to death. The new depot at the Canada Central R.R. was also destroyed. We can give no further particulars in this issue.

Almonte Gazette 27 August 1870

The Canada Central.
The losses of the Canada Central Railway by the late fire were not so serious as we had supposed. At any rate, with the promptitude which has been characteristic of the company, the damage has been repaired and the locomotive is now running as far as the junction of the March Road with the Richmond Macadamized Road, about 7 miles out of the city.

Ottawa Citizen 4 September 1937

The big fire, which in 1870 swept all the Ottawa river front and much of the interior of Carleton County bulks large in the memory of Mr. John Cardill, veteran resident of Ottawa who, at the time of the great conflagration was living on a farm on the tenth line of Goulbourn.  Sometime in the sixties, fire, which destroyed a part of the old Rochesterville tannery forced his father out of work there and the family moved out to Goulborn.
At the time of the big blaze in Carleton, the Canada Central Railway was being built north and west of Bell's Corners.  Mr. Cardill was one of the construction gang employed on the job: the men boarded and roomed at Nelson Corbett's rooming house in the village of Bells Corners.
Destroyed Rails.
"At the time the fire broke out," says Mr. Cardill, "I was working with a gang some distance north of the village.  At that time we were engaged in loading ties on a wagon belonging to Jeremiah Sullivan, of Ramsay.  The district in which we were working was mostly swamp land covered with a thick growth of cedar bushes.  The flames not only swept the cedar bushes, but they burnt the newly laid ties and warped the rails which had been laid or were beside the road-bed.
"I distinctly remember that the flames spread with such rapidity through the district where we were working that we had to flee for our lives.  When we reached what was known as Robinson's rock cut we found the flames had already swept through the village and there was absolutely no chance of reaching the boarding house to get our belongings.  We were forced to join other unfortunate fire sufferers in a head-long flight down the Richmond road in the direction of the city.
"Those of the villagers who had buggies or wagons packed what belongings they could and fled.  Those who had no vehicles left everything and fled on foot.  Some of the people, mainly women and children, fairly exhausted from running and lugging what effects they could with them, stopped at Graham Bay and sought shelter there from the rushing flames.  I recall that quite a number of us, mostly members of the construction crew, continued on down the road until we reached what was then known as Barry's Bay - a little hamlet a short distance east of Woodroffe, now known as Springfield Park.  There we spent the night.
"On returning to Bells Corners the following day we received instructions to commence immediately on the work of rebuilding the burnt section of the railroad.  So anxious were the officials to have the work completed in the shortest possible time that they kept us employed day and night, with only brief rest periods, but without a wink of sleep.  I well remember that when Saturday night came I threw myself down on my bunk and fell into such a sound sleep that I didn't wake up until Monday morning.  That was certainly a trying ordeal."

For an account of a journey through the devastated region on the Canada Central Railway inaugural train see:

Updated 9 November 2021

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