WINDSOR’S GREAT FIRE.
WINDSOR, N. S.—The historic town in the land of Evangeline, the dwelling-place of Judge Hallburton (“Sam Slick”) and others celebrated in Canadian records,is— or rather was—one of the quaintest and the oldest of England’s colonial cities—probably the most interesting and the most romantic of all, except Quebec. As the seat of a university—King’s College—whose royal charter goes far back into the seventeenth century, it was for many years the only degree giving institution on this continent—a degree,whose standard has always been rated as very high. As the county seat of Hants, the seat of a university—and a ladies’ seminary, and as an important centre of learning and ecclesiastical life—to say nothing of its being one of the wealthiest cities of its size in Canada—Windsor has always been looked upon as a dignified city, whose 4,000 inhabitants were content to keep up its name for intense respectability, and seemed unwilling even to try to go forward with the times. The building of the railroad within its limits it could not avert; but the innovation was tolerated as a something that could not be helped. The spirit of the citv has always been non-progressive; and that has possibly been exemplified most of all in the old fogeyness of what does duty as a fire department—if.indeed, such an organization is worthy of the title. All that can be said of it is that it has the “ name to live ” and that, considering its apparatus and the fact that so many buildings in the city were of frame or had wooden, instead of tile or slate roofs, the only wonder is that the recent disastrous fire left one building untouched or one stone standing on another. The tire area of Windsor is three square miles; two-thirds of which were swept by the flames; the majority of its buildings were two and three stories in height; its churches, the ladies’ seminary, the university, and some of the public and business edifices being of stone or brick. Its streets, however picturesque, were admirably adapted for the spread of a fire, to fight which there is a fire department consisting of sixty volunteers, admirably drilled, under Captain Martin C. Smith—all plucky well-set up fellows, punctual in answering the bell alarm, and obedient to the orders of their officers but handicapped by their miserable apparatus. This consists of one hand engine, one chemical extinguisher, two hook and ladder trucks. 700 feet of good rubber hose, with another 200 feet of poor cotton. The water pressure is eighty-six pounds, and there are seventy hydrants. Under such adverse conditions, therefore, it is not to be wondered at that very early on the morning of October 17 the historic old city was swept by fire from end to end—by a conflagration whose ravages, aided by the high wind, cost the citizens at least a million and a quarter dollars in money—insured for a little under $600,000 only—and rendered houseless and homeless, 3 000 of its 4.000 inhabitants. Fortunately the university buildings being outside the city proper,were spared, as were also (strangely enough) the buildings belonging to the Church of England, which lie close together, virtually in one street, while the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and two other places of worship were totally destroyed The public and larger business buildings in the city, including all the public schools, the post office, banks, railway stations and 400 out of the 500 or 600 private residences and dwellings, were all swept away.
The destruction also embraced that of the custom house,the court house and jail (from which the prisoners were liberated by the jailer), the electric light station, the telephone and telegraph buildings, and every foundry, miii, and factory in the city. All that is left of Windsor is about 150 dwellings, the Dufferin hotel, the Episcopal church, the railway stations,and the university buildings. In the vaults of the post office and the Commercial and Halifax banks the fire proof safes stood the test bravely; unfortunately,however.those in the People’s bank were not equally lucky. The one drop of consolation in the cupof bitterness is thatonly one life was lost and only one serious injury was received.
The damning fact about the whole disaster is that its origin was incendiary. At fust it was supposed that lightning caused the fire, which broke out in a barn in the rear of the marine district in the heart of the city and from not being at once discovered, as well as being helped by the gale that was blowing at the time soon spread and became uncontrohble. The immediate perpetrators of the deed were John McIntyre, a well-to-do citizen, of Windsor, Fletcher,a colored dive keeper of the city, and, probably, a negro boy of seventeen years of age, who lived with Fletcher. Mayor Smith says he now has evidence to prove that McIntyre set fire to his own and other houses to defraud the insurance companies. The trio have been arrested. McIntyre, who is undoubtedly the head and front of the offending, at first tried to lay the blame on Fletcher, but weakened under cross-examination ar.d practically confessed the crime. It has since been proved that he saturated several mattresses with oi! and set fire to them, and that immediately following the outbreak of fire at his house there was an explosion. McIntyre is said to have made the following confession to an insurance agent; “I” admit I was in Fletcher’s place at 2 o’clock on the morning of the fire. I wanted Fletcher to go home with me. Fletcher said, “I have something to do before leaving. I have been served with a summons under the Canada Temperance act, but will see the temperance women burned before long.” The three accused were seen running away from the burning house, and did not give any alarm.
The fire started at about 2 o’clock a. m. and took a peculiar course—the buildings left being small groups here and there; the flames destroying everything about them, yet leaving them unscathed. It burned to the water’s edge on the side of the banks of the river Avon,and a number of people who removed their possessions to boats on the river eventually lost them through burning cinders being carried thither. I’owder and dynamite were used to blow up the buildings, in the hope of staying the progress of the destruction; but all such efforts were fruitless. The flames swept everything before them. The water pressure was excellent; but, in addition to there being such a miserable fire apparatus, the local firemen were paralysed by the burning of their hose while in use in the streets.
After the fire had raged for over four hours.it flashed upon the municipal authorities to telegraph to Halifax for assistance;and at 7 o’clock a. m. a special train left that city,with firemen and fire apparatus, two steam fire engines, three hose wagons,etc., for Windsor. They reached their destination within an hour, and did good work in subduing the conflagration. Another train went at n o’clock, and at 2 o’clock a special,containing canvas tents for a thousand or more people and a couple of days’ provisions for several thousands.left. This was accompanied by the Mayor of Halifax, the Lieut.-Governor of the Province, the commander of the British forces at Halifax, and other dignitaries, and, in addition, 100 soldiers to guard the provisions and preserve order and 200 Royal Engineers to erect tents for the victims of the fire, who were suffering intensely from the bitter cold and exposure to the fury of the northwest wind. Hundreds of the sufferers lost everything—even to their clothes and, being uninsured, have had to begin the world again without a cent.
The accompanying illustrations will give some idea of the destruction wrought by the fire.