Monday, June 20, 2016

Quebec City Fire - 1881




QUEBEC, June 9.---One of the most disastrous fires which this unfortunate city has been afflicted with broke out last night, and was only got under control at 6 o'clock this morning. The first alarm was from the corner of St. Olivier and St. Claire streets at 10:50 o'clock. A few minutes later the bells from Basilica, St. John, and St. Roch's Churches rang out a second alarm, and the whole force of the Fire Brigade was soon upon the ground. The reflection of the flames was so visible that in a short time half the city appeared to be attracted to the scene, and by 11:30 o'clock all the avenues around and leading to the fire were so completely packed with people that it was next to impossible to force a way through them. The scene near the conflagration was one of utter confusion. Half of those present seemed panic-stricken, and three-fourths of the others only added to the confusion by running against each other and really contributing to the destruction of property while believing they were helping to save it. Parents, partly clothed, hurried along in every direction, with infants wrapped in bed clothing in their arms. Cows and horses, let loose from burning stables, rushed through the crowd or stood dazed by the uproar.

The fire originated in a stable on St. Olivier-street, near St. Marie-street. The flames quickly spread to the surrounding wooden buildings and to the streets above and below.

St. Olivier Latourelle, St. Marc, and Richelieu streets were quickly a mass of fire for some hundred feet of each in extent, the flames from the other sides of the streets overlapping in the middle, and completely closing them to all traffic.

The scenes common to all great fires were readily discernible at this stage. Even the Police and firemen were to a great extent demoralized. Daring robbery was carried on freely in full sight of everybody. Liquor stores and private dwellings attacked by the flames were ransacked for liquor, which was openly drank by the people of the lowest grade of society, who are common to the locality in question and who frequent low hovels, whose destruction is the least regrettable feature of the disaster. There were, of course, striking contrasts to the numerous instances of generous humanity. The sparks, which everywhere blew from the burning wooden buildings, were themselves a terrible source of danger to the rest of the city. It was no uncommon sight to see men's coats and hats ablaze from the burning pieces of shingles which lighted upon them. The wind being from the north drove the fire rapidly in the direction of St. John's Church. The rush of cold air caused by the rapid spread and large volume of flames seemed to divide the wind into local currents, which scattered the fire around in every direction, and the Fire Brigade found it more unmanageable than ever.

The firemen allege that four wooden houses were found on fire by them when they arrived upon the scene, and that with water absent and unattainable for some 20 minutes it was impossible for them to obtain the mastery. The hydrants threw good streams when the water came into the ward, but too late to be of much service. When the fire spread as above described, the Fire Brigade lost all control over any part of it, their necessary subdivision into so many parties making them weak at every point, and the flames swept onward with almost lightning rapidity.

A great part of Daguillon, West, and St. Genevieve streets had been destroyed when the flames appeared in St. John street, a little further out than Hetherington's bakery. At 1 o'clock the clanging of the bells of St. John;s Church in rapid tones told of danger to that property, and summoned assistance from all who had it to give. The whole efforts of the Fire Brigade were immediately bent on saving the building, but to no avail. Nothing was saved but the sacred vessels and some of the most valuable of the plate and furniture of the sanctuary. The fire had possession of the structure in a very few minutes, and the finest and largest church in the city was doomed to destruction.

It was a grand sight to witness the flames climbing the steeples of the church and to see the [their] them fall a few minutes later. The more northerly of the two was the first to go. It tottered and fell into the roof of the structure. the other steeple gradually sunk and telescoped. Next after the church came the Friars' School opposite. The people in the neighborhood, confident that the church would not be burned, had carried their household goods to the front of the building and there piled them up. Everything was consumed. The church was worth at least $100,000, upon which the insurance amounts to only $10,000.

At the foot of Jupiter-street, below Berthlot Market, the flames had crossed from the lower side of St. John-street, and from this point they rapidly progressed westward along that fine avenue, keeping pace with the other division of the conflagration opposite. Nor was the fire now confined to St. John-street. At Jupiter-street it spread southward to Berthlot-Market-place, destroying property on Gabriel and St. Patrick streets as far out as there were buildings to be destroyed. A lower field alone staid the progress of the fire. At Scott-street the fire ran upward toward Grand-alley at a terrible rate, there being no water, men, hose, nor other appliances to stav it. Only a gap caused by the recent conflagration here stopped the total destruction of the whole street. The only thing that the firemen succeeded in doing was to curb the fire east of Genevieve-street, and here, in fact, the wind was blowing from the east and north-east. From Latourelle-street, and up nearly to St. John, the westerly side of St. Genevieve-street had been swept away. To the north the fire extended as far as Richmond-street. The western limit is a little beyond the street car stables at Mount Pleasant near the city boundary.

Briefly summed up the streets consumed are running east and west; Richmond in part, principally the south side, Latourelle, St. Oliver, Richelieu, Daquillon, and St. John's Ward in Montclam; St. Gabriel, Mouvelle and Breton. Running north and south the principol[sic] streets were Sutherland, Deligny, St. Clair, St. Marie, and St. Genevieve, west side, besides Jupiter-street, in Montcalm Ward, also west side. Among the property destroyed on John-street were a large number of handsome buildings used as stores and private residences.

"A" Battery was called out and rendered efficient aid in saving property and in keeping order. Several remarkable whirlwinds were caused by the fire. In some cases men were lifted off the ground by the force of the wind. The fire extended even to the lower field, where most of the houseless people had camped out with what household effects they had saved; and these goods were almost all burned as they lay piled up on the grass. During the night burning shingles fell in the city as far out as Maple-avenue, endangering every part of the town. Several incipient fires in several streets were suppressed by the vigilance of the occupants. It is computed that there must be a loss of $2,000,000 between the buildings, stock and furniture. More than 1,500 families are made homeless by the conflagration. At least 800 buildings have been destroyed.
It is impossible to give a full and correct list of sufferers and insurance losses at present, but all the insurance losses at present, but all the insurance companies doing business in the city will probably be heavy losers. The Fire Brigade and apparatus was quite unfit to cope with such a fire, and to its weakness and the wretched water service the whole disaster is due.

Rumors circulated as to loss of life were not believed up to 3 P. M. It now appears that five lives were lost. Three bodies have already been recovered. They are those of Mr. and Mrs. Hardy, of No.118 Oliver-street, whose children were saved, and that of a man named Marois, a joiner, of Richelieu-street. Mrs. George Lapperiere and two children are missing, and are also believed to have perished in the flames.

St. John's Church is insured for $63,000. A subscription list in aid of the sufferers has been opened by the Governor-General, who gives $500. The Mayor gives $100, and the Archbishop $1,000.

The total loss is estimated at $1,500,000. The insurance will probably cover about $650,000 of the sum. The City Engineer estimates the number of houses destroyed at about 600. He bases his estimate on the fact that 567 properties on the Cadastral plan of the city were burned, and to these he adds 33 houses on double lots, making 600 in all.

The Governor-General's ball, which was to have come off this evening at Music Hall, has, in consequence of the calamity, been postponed until the evening of the 22d inst.

The discovery of the body of Mr. Hardy was made by men removing rubbish from some ruins. They suddenly came upon a human head so badly burned as to be hardly recognizable, which proved to be that of Mr. Hardy. Besides the five persons already mentioned, there are reports of others missing, who, it is feared, may also have perished in the flames.
Nothing but the walls of St. John's Church now remain, and the fine limestone blocks composing them are completely calcined. There is no doubt that the Fabrique will immediately decide to rebuild this structures. In the meantime mass will be celebrated at the chapel of the Bon Pasteur Lachevroderes. The official list of houses burned given this evening makes the total number 657.

In the Legislative Assembly this evening the Hon. Mr. Chapleau, in a speech in which he referred to the suffering that must result to the poor of Quebec from the terrible fire, moved a vote of $10,000 toward the relief of the sufferers. The Hon. Mr. Joly seconded the motion in a sympathetic speech. The Hon. Messrs. Lynch, Mercier, Robertson, and Irvine, and Messrs. Nelson and Murphy also spoke in a similar strain. The resolution was unanimously adopted.

Charles Renaud, of La Tourelle-street, began at noon to draw the necessary timbers for rebuilding his house. He is probably the first sufferer who has begun operations toward rebuilding.

Most of the sufferers being people in fair circumstances in life, the suffering will not be extensive.

The New York Times, New York, NY 10 Jun 1881

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