Late W. J. Welsh Recalls Story of Fire Department
By Howard Morton Brown
Carleton Place Canadian, 04 July, 1963
Some fire department recollections from the early days of Carleton Place are concluded in this installment. It recounts the late W. J. Welsh’s memories of some locally famed firemen, of firemen’s annual picnics and balls of more than half a century ago, and of the origins of the town’s present fire company and its predecessor during his childhood.
The Ocean Wave Fire Company was established under its present name by the Carleton Place municipal council in 1875. Jack Welsh, widely known as “Baldy”, the grand old man of Canadian competitive paddling, died in Carleton Place in 1957 at the age of 96. His story which follows was written by him in 1917 and was first published in this newspaper:
“What a flood of pleasant memories the name of this fine fire fighting force revives. To those who know it in its splendor today a short sketch of its origin and early days might be of interest. While I will not try to confine myself strictly to data, the nearness of it will suffice.
About the years 1868 or ’69, the need of some better means of fire protection than the bucket brigade was apparent and with that end in view a meeting of the village was called to discuss the matter. The meeting was called to order by the late James Poole, editor of the Herald and captain of the volunteer company at that time.
It was held on the street near Glover’s carriage shop, and the chairman’s rostrum was the corner of the log fence where now stands the English church rectory. A fire company was formed with Mr. Poole as captain, but they had no engine. At that time, Robert Bell, who was a great lover of flowers, had a small hand engine or more properly a pump which he used for watering his garden.
He offered them this. While it was a first class article for its purpose and there is no record of it being a failure at a fire, we will judge that it was a success.
Among the members of the company at the time were: W. Patterson, Alex. Wilson, William Glover, J. S. Nolan, William Rogers, William Pattie, J. R. Galvin, Nathaniel McNeely and others.
A larger engine was purchased as the brigade became more efficient and the need grew greater. This was the ‘Defiance,” the first engine purchased by the village. It was a hand engine, commonly called a man-killer. Next was purchased the original Ocean Wave, also a hand engine but the most powerful of its kind at that time.
It required 40 men to work it, but when it was going it was a fire fighter. It would throw a stream of water over Zion church spire, a feat our streamers are not capable of today. In order to give the engine a fair trial and initiate the firemen into the proper working of it the Renfrew fire brigade were invited down.
They were a large fine-looking body of men. The trial took place on the bridge and as the husky firemen forced the breaks to the cry of “Heave Her Down,” the stream rose towards the sky and the dam at the same time which caused the late James L. Murphy to exclaim with rapture, “The Ocean Wave.” From that day so well remembered the Ocean Wave was christened.
The late William Patterson was the next captain, followed by the late T. L. Nagle, D. Moffatt, Thomas Lever, James Warren, Alex. McLaren and Wm. McIlquham. The hand engine gave way to the steamer and the “Sir John” was purchased and still another steamer was added. Now with a first class waterworks system, Mort. Brown’s and the Hawthorn factory auxiliary power, we stand as second to none as a well equipped town.
A chief engineer was attached to the brigade in the person of the late James Shilson whose mechanical ability was a wonder. The company made a wise selection. He was followed by the late James Doherty. The next chief, Mr. McIlquham, brought the company up to a high state of efficiency and what Billy can’t accomplish in the way of fire-fighting with the Ocean Waves would be a shame to tell. As a mechanic of man-power he had no superior.
While firemen have built up a company they did not forget the social side of life. Years ago the firemen’s picnic was the event of the season. It was held on Pretty’s Island, and the date was fixed to correspond with the ripening of John McCann’s corn – his contribution to the feast, as that was a big item on the bill of fare.
The steamer Enterprise was donated free by Senator McLaren. He also gave a substantial cash donation to purchase groceries and the said groceries to be purchased at Sibbitt’s.
One fireman was hiding a basket containing a bottle of ‘milk,’ under a clump of bushes at the water’s edge when smash came a rock over the bush and when he got the water out of his eyes the bottle was gone.
While the women spread the table cloths on the ground and were emptying the well-filled baskets, the corn and tea were bubbling in the boilers sending forth an appetizing odor that could be felt over at Shail’s Settlement.
A glance at the names of the committee in charge of the picnic is enough to convince the most skeptical that a better day’s outing could not be held – such names as the late Sid Anable, Bill Whalen, Bill Patterson, Joe Wilson, Alex. Wilson, Oliver Virtue. Wylie’s barge was towed along for a dancing platform for the home trip and with the late George and Dick Willis playing the fiddles – it was not called an orchestra in those days – such foot-inspiring music was produced by these two musicians as has never been equaled.
The annual ball was another event that was looked forward to as the ball of the season. Started years ago in Newman’s hall, it outgrew that. The first record I can find is 1882. Then the old town hall and Pattie’s hall were each used until the present town hall was built. Supper was served in the different hotels until they secured their present quarters and with their own outfit have served as many as 600 visitors from all over the country.
McGillicuddy’s orchestra, of Ottawa, – some class in those days – furnished the music. A comparison of the program in those days is worthy of notice. It consisted of a Grand March, Cotillion Quadrille and Varsuvienne. And to see them hit the floor, yea, couldn’t they dance.
I have lately seen three generations of the same family dancing at one time, the grandmother having attended the first annual ball. Of late years Valentine’s orchestra, of Ottawa, and the Hulme Family, of Prescott, have furnished music. While the profits have varied from a small sum to hundreds of dollars, with their usual generosity, they were able last year to give $50 to the Red Cross. The athletic and gladitorial side of the brigade was not neglected during these years as the numerous victories of fleet footed hose reel and giant tug-of-war teams testify competing in every town from Pembroke to Brockville.
They proved their mettle. When you think of a team of such men as Chief McIlquham, Adam Pretty, John Morris, Chief Wilson, James Loftus, William Hurdis, Tom Johnston, Jim Rogers, Alex. Wilson, John D. Taylor, John Willis, John Dolan and the late James Warren, it was easy to understand why they were victors.
Time has laid its hand heavily in the ranks of the company and very few remain in 1917. The old spirit created years ago and which has made a single success of this valuable asset to our town, still remains and when the last trumpet calls and each man has received his reward we will find them not sitting “around the fire” but basking in that celestial light – the reward of all who have been good and faithful firemen.”