The Lanark Fire June 15th 1959

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Photo originally from The Lanark Era, via The Ottawa Citizen)

Lanark Village was first settled in 1820 (then called New Lanark) as a government supply depot for the Lanark Society Settlers who set out from the village to populate the surrounding townships. It consisted first of only the depot and a single store, but quickly grew to include other shops, a grist mill on the Clyde River, and many homes. As the lumber industry began to flourish and the region’s ‘timber barons’ began to run their logs down the Clyde through Lanark, the village grew rapidly.

 

t its height, Lanark was home to a great number of businesses including mills, foundries, hotels, and shops to satisfy every need of the surrounding townships; it became the bustling central hub of the region and was much larger than Perth at the time (the photo above shows the once shop-lined George Street facing the town hall). However, over the years this began to change for a number of reasons, principally the slowing of the lumber industry, the lifeblood of the region, and because trains that passed through villages to the north and Perth to the south never came to Lanark. This was why, by the early 1900s, Lanark had lost its lead on other local towns and villages. Though no longer growing as rapidly as it once did, Lanark continued to be a prosperous little village until one windy day in 1959.

Around nine o’clock on June 15th, 1959, a single spark ignited a fire at the Campbell Sash and Door Factory (a planing mill) at the corner of George and Owen Streets. The fire went unnoticed for a few crucial minutes, allowing it to take hold in the dry fuel of the factory’s wood and sawdust. Within minutes the factory was ablaze and the fire had already begun to spread to nearby buildings (as seen in the photo to the left, showing a man running past the burning factory to warn firefighters that his home was now burning as well). The merciless wind and dry heat of the summer day then took hold of the fire, which quickly began to move down the village’s main street.

As the flames began to travel down George Street, sparks and burning debris were blown ahead onto the dry rooftops of the village. Witnesses say that some buildings beside the fire were simply superheated to the point that they themselves combusted. Half way along the first block the fire crossed the street and continued to burn along each side as firefighters from every town and village as far away as Ottawa tried in vain to stop its advance. Seeing the approach of the inevitable, many people began to empty their furniture and belongings into the streets, much of which eventually caught a spark and burned where it sat. The fire soon crossed Clarence Street, burning the village’s town hall and the stores that surrounded it.

 

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Around noon, as the wind began to die down, the fire was finally halted as it neared the Clyde River. Though sparks had blown across the river and traveled beyond the far edge of the village, thankfully no other fires got out of control. The fire finally burned itself out shortly after being stopped, but the village had been devastated.

 

In those three short hours over 40 homes and businesses were destroyed and nearly 100 people were left homeless. Once the busy center of the village, nothing now stood along George Street between the Sash and Door Factory and the Locker Plant (Pretty Goods today). For a number of days the streets of Lanark were lined with a steady stream of cars coming from miles around to view the devastation. Though so much had been lost, many villagers vowed to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, including the owner of the hardware store who promptly hitched a ride to Toronto to get a loan and buy new stock, which he was selling to those in desperate need in Lanark just two days after the fire from a makeshift store in his home. The resilience of Lanark’s people was tested and proven that day and in the coming years.

Many of Lanark’s homes were indeed rebuilt along with some of its businesses, but the village never again boasted the vast array of shops and services that it once had. The great fire of 1959 was a major blow to the village from which it is still trying to recover today.

 

Lanark Fire 1959 Photos

COURTESY THE LANARK ERA, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN  06.15.2009

Lanark County Genealogical Society Website

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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