You have read the newspaper reports of the 1959 Lanark Village fire and the posting I did this year. Yesterday I found an article written by the NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL CANADA DIVISION OF BUILDING RESEARCH in 1959. It answers some of the questions I always had and is basically a minute by minute report.
REPORT ON CONFLAGRATION IN LANARK, ONTARIO 15 JUNE 1959 M. Galbreath and C. G. Burnett
The conflagration which occurred on 15 June 1959 in Lanark, Ontario, destroyed approximately 33 buildings representing almost the entire business centre of this village of 950 people. The fire started in the Campbell Sash and Door Factory at the corner of Owen and George Streets shortly after noon and spread rapidly down the main street in a southerly direction. It was brought under control at about 3:45 p.m–after involving both sides of the street for one and a half blocks and having started a large number of smaller fires throughout the village. The Town Hall, Fire Department Headquarters, Telephone Exchange , Hotel, stores and apartments were among the buildings lost. The Dominion Fire Commission report on Fire Losses in Canada gives $738,420 as the estimated total loss.
At approximately 12:20 p.m a resident of the village discovered the fire burning in a one-story wood-frame building located at George and Owen Streets and used as a woodworking plant. Machinery in the plant had been closed down, and the employees had left for lunch at noon. The fire seemed to have made considerable headway in a pile of wood shavings and was extending to the interior of the building. He sounded the alarm to call the volunteer brigade.
Photo- Ottawa Citizen- Lanark Era
By the time the fire fighters had assembled and returned to the factory, the fire had broken through the roof and the adjacent florist’s shop was on fire. The fire chief said that when he was called out by the alarm the house facing his on George Street was on fire. This was the building on the south side of George Street near the place where the conflagration was brought under control.
At the arrival of the fire-fighting equipment, an attempt was made to extinguish the fire with the supply of water carried with the apparatus; this attack soon had to be discontinued and the apparatus moved to the river to start pumping water into large hose lines,as the fire had attacked the roof of the building. Live embers were being carried by the strong winds to the opposite end of the village igniting a number of wood shingled roofs, causing considerable concern to the residents who were attempting to extinguish the fires with water from their wells.
The fire began to spread very rapidly from the building of origin in an easterly and southerly direction to ignite wood and masonry buildings in its path for a distance of approximately one-half mile. A mutual aid system is arranged with the various township fire departments, and with the occurrence of this fire, assistance was requested by telephone from the township fire coordinator at Smiths Falls 50 miles away, and the Town of Perth, 12 miles from Lanark.
A former resident of the village, just a young boy at the time of the fire, was recently quoted as saying, “People didn’t just lose their homes and their livelihoods…we lost the fabric of our community”. —Lanark & District Museum
As the fire progressed, the telephone exchange and communications were destroyed leaving the village isolated. It became necessary to use the car radio facilities of the Ontario Provincial Police to request other assistance to control the fire. Lanark’s fire-fighting apparatus, consisting of one 500-gal pump, one 420-gal pump and one portable pump, were now drawing water from the Clyde River that flows through the east end of the village, and relaying it to the fire which now had involved a number ,of buildings on the north side of George Street between Owen and Clarence Streets where an attempt was made to check the fire.
The strong north winds which had carried the fire in an easterly direction now began to change direction and the fire was carried across George Street to attack buildings on the south side where it continued to spread. It was estimated that within one-half hour from the start of the fire, many of the buildings bounded by Owen and Clarence on George Street which compromised the business section, were ignited or in the line of fire, and fires were occurring in various parts of the village from flying embers.
The Perth fire brigade with a pumping unit and equipment were the first to arrive on the scene at approximately 1:00 p.m. On approaching the village it was reported that live embers were flying in all directions and the main fire seemed to be centred in the business district on George Street, with a number of wood-frame buildings ignited from flying embers on the south side of the Clyde River in the vicinity of Mill Street. In an attempt to control the fires in this area, pumping operations were carried out from the bridge crossing the Clyde River, and hose lines were laid to the various buildings which had been ignited by flying embers and were threatening to spread the fire.
The action of the Perth brigade no doubt was a factor in the control of this fire. Fire brigades with men and equipment continued to arrive at intervals throughout the afternoon from Smiths Falls, Bathurst, Carleton Place, Almonte, Arnprior Civil Defence College and Brockville. The City of Ottawa, while not a participant in the mutual aid arrangement, was requested for assistance and dispatched a pumping unit with men and equipment.
By 3:45 p.m., the wind began to die down and the fire was brought under control half-way down the block between Clarence and Hillier Streets. Apparatus from the various municipalities was gradually released after 6:00 p.m. The Perth brigade remained on duty until 7: 00 a .m. , 16 June, and the Lanark Village brigade worked throughout the day to extinguish smouldering fires. A high wind variously reported as being from 30 to 55 mph rose during the morning and continued throughout most of the afternoon. A press photographer and his pilot who flew over the village at the height of the fire estimated the speed at about 30 mph. Light rain began to fall in Lanark later in the afternoon when the fire was being brought under control.
Carleton Place Canadian files from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum-
Just read the story on the Lanark Fire. My husband Bill McNeely was one of the firemen from Carleton Place who fought this fire. There is a pic that was donated by C. Wilson and it had three firemen in it and it was Cal Wilson, Bill McNeely and Bob Bennett in it.– Margaret McNeely
The fire completely destroyed all the buildings within an area approximately 1100 ft long and 600 ft wide. Beyond this area many smaller fires started but they were put out by fire fighters and householders. The damage varied from superficial damage of roof shingles, to the complete destruction of sheds behind the Knitting Mill.
With the exception of the incidents otherwise noted on the plan, all ignition in this peripheral area occurred on roofs. Where the buildings were completely destroyed the information was obtained from local residents. On the day following the fire a large number of large cinders were observed on both sides of the river. One piece weighed 50 gm and it is estimated that in its original state it would have been approximately 8 by 5 by 1 in. The piece was completely reduced to charcoal.
Small fires were also reported as having occurred in the lumber yard across the river and on the roof of the Anglican church. These were extinguished, however, before much damage was done. The fire completely burned out the centre of Lanark and it is impossible to state with any certainty how the fire spread from building to building in each individual case.
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News