17 August 1870
It had been a dry spring and even drier summer. By mid August, little rain had fallen in four months, parching the fields and forests of eastern Ontario and western Quebec. On 17 August 1870, a work gang clearing a right-of-way along the Central Canada Railway between Pakenham and Almonte near the village of Rosebank set brush on fire along the tracks. It wasn’t the brightest of moves. With a strong wind blowing from the south, the fire quickly got out of control and spread into the neighbouring woods. Despite efforts by railway workers to douse the flames with water pumped from the nearby Mississippi River, it could not be contained. Racing northward through the tinder-dry forest, the fire sent massive columns of smoke into the air blanketing the region.
The dreadful dry weather that has long prevailed in Central Canada has been productive. Untold destruction to the woods in every direction, and in some cases to the cultivated farms, dwellings and outhouses. There has been no very serious fires in the near vicinity of Perth until Wednesday last, when the high winds fanned the devouring flames into dangerous proximity to the Town.
For some time back fearful fires have been raging in the southern parts of North Burgess, in many cases sweeping away the entire improvements of years of hard toil, including houses, barns, etc. on cultivated farms, leaving behind one blackened plain as the story of the rapacity of the devouring element, and converting in a few short hours the once comfortable farmer and his family into objects of charity, destitute of even a crust of bread to keep them from starving.
These are melancholy realities that have occurred in more than one instance between Perth and Westport during the last week. A very destructive fire has been raging on the third line of Bathurst during the last two or three days, and has only been kept from proving as destructive as those near Westport by the most active and uninterrupted labour of the farmers in the locality.
This fire, on Wednesday night last, had got down nearly as far as Glen Tay. No serious damage, however has yet occurred. The heavens are now lighted up every night with the red glare of these fires in ever direction, and in calm days the atmosphere rendered stifling by the smoke. If a plentiful supply of rain does not soon come to extinguish these fires, it is a fearful contemplation to think of the danger that may occur within a very short space of time. Since the above was in type we learn that the barns and all the other buildings except the dwelling house, of Mr. John Rossiter, of South Sherbrooke, were burned to the ground on Wednesday afternoon last. Mr. Rossiter lost everything that was in the outbuildings including his crops, and everything else about the premises.
This calamity will go hard with Mr. Rossiter, he being a poor man, who can ill afford to be thus deprived of the whole of his year’s crop besides the other property that was destroyed.We also learned that the barn, dwelling house, haystacks, etc. of Mr. James Cunningham of Drummond, on Wednesday last caught fire several times, but through the active agency of the neighbours, the property was saved. However, the utmost vigilance has yet to be kept up, as there is no safety until rain comes to quench the fires.
Fires are also raging alone the line of the Canada Central Railway, and much damage is being done by burning ties, fencing and other materials. We also learn that great fires are burning fiercely at various places between Perth and Ottawa. The telegraph poles, in many places have been burned, thus breaking off communications between these two places by telegraph.
It was reported in town yesterday and day before that the factory of the Bark Company had been burned down, but such is not the case, the fires being about two miles from there now. We also hear of many other disastrous fires, burning down barns, dwelling, etc. but we cannot learn any certain facts concerning them, and do not therefore mention them just now.
The Perth Courier, Friday, August 19, 1870
The Merrickville Chronicle of Friday last says that immense and most destructive fires are raging in the woods in almost every direction. In Montague, Marlborough and Oxford Townships a very large amount of valuable timber has been totally destroyed, while, houses, and barns and standing crops have been seriously threatened in many instances. We hear that a considerable quantity of hay, in stacks, was consumed in the rear of Montague. If drenching rain does not soon come, these fires will seriously affect large sections of the surrounding country. In Oxford alone, the fire has swept over not less than 1,800 acres of land, and the end is not yet certain.
The Perth Courier, Friday, August 19, 1870
By telegram, private sources and otherwise, we have collected the following particulars and details with regard to the fearful fires that are now sweeping over Central Canada.
From reliable information from the County of Carleton, we learn that large stretches of country have been completely burned over,leaving the whole face of the country one blackened mass of smoldering ruins – not a vestige of the once prosperous and happy homes of the farmers remaining to tell the tale of recent prosperity and smiling fields of waving grain. It is utterly impossible to conceive of the misery and dissolution that exists in many places, both in the Counties of Lanark and Carleton. So rapid and overwhelming did the devouring element often become, that the terrified people were glad to escape with their very lives, leaving everything behind – even to the scanty supply of wearing apparel – to the rapacity of the dreaded monster. Houses, cattle, sheep, pigs and even dogs, have, in some instances, become easy victims to the fire, escape having been rendered impossible from the suddenness of its appearance and the utter inability of the weak efforts of man to subdue it or keep it in check.
We subjoin the following melancholy record:Alex McMullan, in Burgess, near Otty Lake, lost everything on his farm – his dwelling house, barns and all other outbuildings, the whole crop of the year, with farming implements, house furniture, etc. and sad to say, numbers of his cattle and sheep were destroyed also. We did not learn the estimated loss.
Mr.Owen Lally’s farm was reduced to one bare and barren field – houses, crops, etc, being all consumed. The Burgess Mills, situated on Rideau Lake, and owned by Mr. Clarke, of Sherbrooke, P.Q. were totally consumed, with a large amount of material. it was intended, as announced in the Courier some months ago, to convert these buildings into crushing mills for the manufacture of phosphate of lime. This fire, of course puts an end to that project for the present. Loss unknown.
James Grierson loses not only his whole range of buildings but the entire proceeds of his farm during the year – crops, fences, etc. Loss unknown. William G. Tully’s misfortune is fully equal to Mr. Grierson’s, and the labours of a life swept away in a few moments. Loss not known.
Mr. Tully’s two sons – Thomas and John – have also met with a similar loss as their father.Losses unknown.Wm. Burchana loses the whole of his buildings, crops, valuables, etc. This farm presents a sad scene of desolation.Wm. Noble’s farm is completely cleared of all vestiges of civilization. Likewise that of Mrs. Noble, his mother, we presume. On the farm of Lawrence Russell everything is burned expect the dwelling house.Loss heavy.
Owen Quinn lost everything – barn, house, crops, implements, etc. Loss heavy.
William Ryan also lost very heavily, but we did not learn the full extent. It is rumoured, though, that he lost everything.
Patrick Dooher escaped with the loss of his hay. The buildings on the land owned and worked by the New York Mica Co., J. F. Baker, Superintendent, we understand, were also completely consumed. Thos. B. Scott was a sufferer to the extent of a new dwelling house and large quantity of hay. The above fires all took place in North Burgess and within a distance of not more than twelve miles from Perth – some as near as size and seven miles.
The Perth Courier, Friday, August 26, 1870
Fires in the Woods
Considerable damage has been done to woods, fences and pastures in the eastern part of the Township of Drummond by fires. Scores of men were out fighting the devouring element until the late shower stemmed the progress of the fire, and prevented any serious damage being done. The only wonder is that with such dry weather as this, there are not more and greater fires in the woods and swamps.
The Wildfires of 1870