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.”
Carleton Place’s Great Fire Occurred in 1910
By Howard M. Brown
Carleton Place Canadian, 27 June, 1963
Stories of former days in the long and distinguished record of the Ocean Wave Fire Company of Carleton Place, founded in 1875, are continued in this instalment.
It recalls the years of the eighteen eighties, and this town’s perilous fire of 1910, in the times when steam fire engines and equipment were raced to the scene of action by galloping fire horses.
Officers of the Ocean Wave Fire Company in the early eighteen eighties were William Patterson, captain; George Warren, first lieutenant; George Crawford, second lieutenant; John R. Galvin, secretary; William Rogers, treasurer; and John Flett, company engineer. The grants of the Carleton Place Council to the fire company at that time were $200 a year. The company usually had about 25 or 30 members; 35 was the membership attending its annual meeting in 1882. Leaders of the ld days subsequently included Tom Nagle, Dave Moffatt, Tom Lever, Jim Warren, Alex McLaren and the great Billy McIlquham.
After the years of the hand pumpers, the purchase of a steam fire engine finally was authorized by an 1884 bylaw to raise $6,000 for this purpose. A brick fire hall, still standing, had been built on Bridge Street at the end of William Street. Several large tanks were situated at points distant from the river to serve as fire engine water reservoirs.
The new fire engine was unable to save the inflammable new tannery and wool pulling plant of John F. Cram and Donald Munro, burned in 1886 with a fire loss of $10,000. Spectacular fire in the town of the nineties included the destruction of the Moffatt & Cavers shingle mill and most of the firm’s planning mill, and two losses of groups of Bridge Street retail shops. The plant and office of this newspaper, then named the Central Canadian and located at the corner of Bridge and Elgin Streets, were consumed by fire forty years ago.
Keen public interest and pride was taken not only in the speed and skill of the Ocean Wave firemen but also in the horses which drew the fire fighting equipment of a generation ago. A glimpse of one of many similar races to smaller fires is given in a Carleton Place Herald report of a 1910 fire which threatened to destroy St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Appleton several weeks before the great Carleton Place fire disaster of that year:
“The town team, driven by James Walters, took the big fire engine to Appleton – four miles – on Saturday night in the dark in thirty-five minutes, and there were four men on the engine. Mr. J. M. Brown, with one horse, took a load of firemen and a hose cart down in half an hour, and signaled for water thirty-seven minutes after leaving the hall here.”
As in the country’s other larger towns and cities of fifty years ago, the pounding gallop to a Carleton Place fire by great teams of horses, drawing heavy brass-stacked fire engines belching their smoke and fire, and clanging and rattling hook and ladder wagons manned with firemen, brought a never to be forgotten wave of excitement to young and old alike. To youthful onlookers it was a latter-day Roman chariot race, in a vital and perhaps desperate cause.
Battle Against Disaster
This town’s greatest fire came in mid May of 1910, and rode to its crescendo on the peak of a heavy gale. It came about the time predicted for the reappearance of Halley’s Comet. Some when half-awakening to its glare, thought they were viewing the light of the comet. Within four hours after midnight about thirty buildings were destroyed, most of them residences. Property losses in 1910 values were estimated at over $150,000. Through heroic work by the town fire department, the Canadian Pacific Railway fire force and Almonte firemen with their fire engine, aided by the courageous and frantic efforts of householders and others, a greater part of the south and east sides of the town was saved from equal devastation.
The fire started on Bridge Street in a pair of retail stores at Albert Street, from a cause not known. Fanned by a high southwest wind it swept an area equaling about two blocks, centred in the Albert, Beckwith, Judson and Franklin Streets section. The block bounded by these four streets was reduced completely to ashes and ruin.
Zion Presbyterian Church, valued at over $35,000 with its additions and renovations of the previous two years was wholly destroyed. Other public and church buildings bunred down, in addition to retail stores, were the curling rink, the militia drill shed, the Masonic Temple and St. Andrew’s and Zion church manses.
A total loss at the residence of Mrs. James Gillies, on the site at Franklin and Judson Streets where fire had struck over thirty years earlier, was set at $18.000. For some time the fire illuminated the windswept night sky to an extent at which in Almonte and more distant points a newspaper could be read in its light.
These were some of the tactical incidents and sidelights of this fire of over fifty years ago, as told by William H. Allen in the Carleton Place Herald:
“The first water supply came from the new engine, which played two good streams from the bridge. The old fire engine also played two streams from the bridge but gave out early in the fight, the lift being too much for her. Two streams were laid from Brown’s, one from the pump at the light station and one from the grist mill. Another stream came from Mr. Nichols planning mill and still another from the Bates & Innes mill, to which the C.P.R. brigade attached their hose and held the fire from spreading across the tracks.
Early in the night Mayor Albert Cram telephoned Almonte for aid. Our neighbour at great risk sent over their fire engine and a squad of men, the run being made over at a mile a minute rate by a locomotive and a flat car with Howard Moffatt at the throttle. The Almonte engine, was placed on Judson Street. As all the own hose were in service one of Brown’s pumps had to be cut off to give sufficient hose to the Almonte engine, which was placed below Brown’s mill. It did excellent service for some hours.
Away over the track the tower of Bates & Innes mill took fire and was saved after a hard fight. Many houses on William Street were covered with embers, but the careful work of the owners prevented any outbreak. Half a mile further the granary and driveshed of Mr. Herbert Morphy took fire and was swept, the barns nearby being saved with difficulty.
The firemen had a desperate fight with Zion Church manse. Here there would have been no hope for the wooden houses adjoining, and the Methodist parsonage and church and the Brown mills with dwellings would all have been in line.
The uniforms and arms of the volunteers were removed from the drill shed, but some blank ammunition kept up a mournful fusillade when the fire reached it. The only thing standing in the block bounded by Beckwith, Albert, Judson and Franklin streets is a lattice-work in the rear of Mrs. Gillies home.
Norman McNabb got caught in the bellrope when sounding the alarm from Zion Church. He had a narrow escape from strangling and has a sore neck. We regret to observe that there were thieves among the crowd, and many articles were afterwards lost that had been saved from the flames.”
Reminiscences of former generations of the men of the Ocean Wave Fire Company at work and in their lighter moments at play, as written about 50 years ago by the great, old sportsman W. J. ‘Baldy’ Welsh, will conclude the present group of stories of that memorable era of the town’s fire fighters.