Saturday, 29 April 2017

1885 - Wharf Fire

“One of those disastrous fires which, fortunately, are of rare occurrence in Hamilton took place Saturday night.”

Hamilton Spectator.    December 8, 1885.

On the hill overlooking the bay, the workers at glass works, located at the foot of Macnab, had a clear view of the docks and wharves below:

 “A few minutes after 7 o’clock, Mr. Harry Lee, clerk at the Burlington Glass Works, discovered fire in a warehouse on Zealand’s wharf. It needed not a second glance to convince him that the building was on fire and that the fire had secured a strong hold.

“The fire department was quickly telephoned to and responded promptly, but during the few minutes it took to make the run of over a mile, the flames had made such headway that there was no hope of saving the warehouse.”1

1 “ An Incendiary’s Deed : The Fire Fiend Gets in His Work at Zealand’s Wharf”

Hamilton Spectator.   December 8, 1885.

The fire soon attracted a huge number of onlookers, including many willing to help save a steamer tied up near the wharf:

“The steamer Acadia was lying in the slip broadside the dock. The burning building was not eight feet away, and the side of the steamer was already scorched and blistered. A hundred ready hands assisted in pushing her out of the slip. The water around her was frozen and the work was slow, but with an occasional application of water, the fire was kept off until she was safely before all danger.”1

There was a huge amount of felled trees piled near the wharf which was being assembled to make rafts and be floated down the lake for export. Willing hands helped thrown the lumber into the cold waters of the bay. Some of the wood was tied together providing a platform for firemen to use to pour water onto the fire. Two men fell into the bay while helping out in that effort.

A huge warehouse on the wharf had contained a large quantity of soda ash, and a substantial amount of manufactured glass works from the Burlington Glass Works awaiting the opening of navigation in the coming spring so it could be sent out to market.

Word of the fire was quickly spread throughout the city, and despite the cold weather, a huge crowded rushed to the site of the conflagration:

“Thousands of people assembled to witness the grand scene of destruction. Roofs of buildings, sides of boats and the bluffs above were crowded, while boys were seen in the rigging of schooners tied up at the adjoining docks.”1

Speculation was that the fire had been deliberately set by an arsonist.

There was one positive outcome of the fire in that the clean up of the remains of the warehouse and wharf would provide much-needed employment of many men at a time o the year when unemployment was high.

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