Mary Street Collie Factory Fire 1981



Seventy five Almonte-area workers are off the job indefinitely after a spectacular fire Sunday at the Collie Woolen Mills at the end of Mary Street. Neither the fire department nor the mill owners know how the fue started. On Monday, Fire Marshal Marcel Lalonde of Cornwall began an investigation into the causes of the fire. The blaze was reported at 6:25 pm Sunday night, and Almonte-Ramsay firefighters, under the direction of Chief Bill Lowry, were on the scene in less than three minutes.

Additional firefighters from Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Pakenham, and Lanark township also responded to the fire call. A spokesman for Collie Woolen Mills, Ralph Brown, would not put a dollar figure on the blaze but said there had been significant water damage that would be “ very expensive to repair.” “Many of our machines are sensitive to water . . . they will require a lot of attention,” said Brown.

He was also not able to forecast a date for the reopening of the mill, saying that “it will be quite a few days until we are back .. as we were” in terms of production. The 75 workers at the mill have been laid off, for “what could be a long while,” he said. On the other hand, said Brown, some operations could be restored “ by the first of January . . . it’s a little premature to peg it (the reopening date) now, and I just don’t know.” By 10:30 pm crossing the ground floor of the mill was like taking a trip in “the maid of the mist.” Water was seepage collecting in ever-deepening puddles along the floor.

One firefighter remarked that “ it seemed like it was raining” on the ground floor, and floors above. The fire broke out in a small storage area on the sixth floor of the old stone structure. The area was used “partly for storage, and partly for finished goods,” according to Ralph Brown. A careful strategy Almonte-Ramsay fire chief Bill Lowry had a master plan, which in the end had the blaze under control by 9:30 pm. The key, he said, was “to stop it (the fire) from going by us.”

Oxygen equipped firefighters used the 100-foot ladder truck to pour water in through an upstairs window, while hand-hdd lines “ were advanced . . . inside the building” by firefighters. At about nine o’clock the flames burned a hole through the roof . . . which was, according to Chief Lowry, “just about the best thing that could have happened.” The blaze had somewhere to go once the roof was open, and firefighters had been worried that it might have begun to burn down towards the lower floors.

As well, explained the chief, the hole in the roof let dangerous smoke and gases escape. Assistance was received first from the Smiths Falls lire department, who were on the scene in just 20 minutes with tlieii 75-foot ladder truck and Tele Squirt water spraying equipment. The Carleton Place Ocean Wave Fire Department, due to a mix-up, weren’t called until later . . . but arrived within eight minutes of being called, said the Chief. The Ocean Wave team brought their 50-foot rele-Squirt, and joined the Almonte-Ramsay and Smiths Falls ladder trucks m containing the blaze.

The Pakenham fire Department operated their pumper, providing water for the Carleton Place team, while an Almonte-Ramsay pumper was also used. Firefighters were also sent from Lanark township, and one firefighter from Ottawa —who jusi happened to be driving by— joined the battle. In all, 45 men were used . . . 24 from Almonte-Ramsay, six from Carleton Place, six from Smiths Falls, six from Pakenham, three from Lanark township, and one volunteer from Ottawa. The Almonte Public Utilities Commission crane and several PUC workers helped out by lifting a truck out of the way of the firefighters.

Mercifully, there were no serious injuries as a tcsult of the fire. The sole occupant in the mill was a caretaker, who escaped without injury. However, firelighter Randy ‘ ‘R o o ste r” McDougall was taken to hospital for a foot injury. McDougall “ will be off work for a couple nf weeks . . . he was heated and then released” from hospital, said Chief Lowry. A three-man crew- from Almonte Ramsay remained on the scene all night, but most of the other firefighter left at abot t midnight, said the chief. It was an eerie spectacle for Almonters . . . the lights inside the building continued to burn brightly as smoke billowed out through several windows in the mill’s sixth floor.

Although flames were not often visible, an orange glow could be seen just beyond the nozzles of the hoses being directed by the airborne firefighters. A crowd of about 75 people stood and watched at the scene, while others looked on from Union Street. Roads were sealed off to give fire vehicles access to the site, and OPP constables sealed off Mary and Coleman streets to all but essential traffic. Tonic for the troops For the Almonte-Ramsay squad it was the third fire in just nine days, and the second to last until the small hours of the morning. However, help from the firefighters wives, who prepared food and coffee back at the fire hall, was greatly appreciated.

According to Linda O ’Connell, whose husband Gerry was battling the blaze, a rallying cry was circulated among the wives “to bring whatever food people had” down to the firehall. . . “ from peanut butter to salmon and ‘Clayton steaks’ (mock chicken).” A vote of thanks was sent out to Gwen McDaniel of Becker’s who donated as much food as people cared to carry away. About 10 to 15 women prepared the food and coffee.

The firefighters “came in shifts to eat,” said Linda O ’Connell, One , common practice was the drinking of a sip of coke and a sip of” coffee . . . “ to clear the smoke, so they wouldn’t cough so much,” she said. It was, she said, a chaotic scene. To top if off’, the firefighters suffered a setback right at the fire hall when a small electrical fire damaged their equipment van. According to several accounts, the exhausted firefighters stared quietly with disbelief at the burning van for a few seconds.

Clippings of the Appleton Collie Mill 1940

Collie Mill Fire Almonte October 1, 1965

Tales from the Old Mill Appleton Morrow Collie

The Abandoned Appleton Mill

The Mill Fab Store

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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