The Great Windsor Fire of 1897
[excerpt from November 2012 Newsletter]
October 17, 1897
On October 17, 1897, disaster struck the town of Windsor, Nova Scotia. At three a.m. that Sunday morning, a fire started that would destroy most the town and leave most of its residents homeless and penniless.
The fire started in the rear of the Marine Block on Water Street and spread throughout the town from King Street to Clifton Avenue, and from the waterfront to the area of Windmill Hill (location of the old Elms Nursing Home). The fire department of 1897 attempted to battle a blaze with only 38 men, a hose reel, a few ladders and some buckets. They did the best they could with the resources available at the time but it was a losing battle.
Around four a.m. the fire seemed to be under control, however, the wind shifted to the northwest and increased to hurricane force. The fire then spread rapidly with flames leaping from roof top to roof top. The whole downtown was ablaze. The heat was so intense sections of the railway tracks buckled. The Windsor Fire Department had to retreat from a hydrant they were using to fight the fire. Fire equipment was brought in from Halifax on the train and help came from Kentville, Wolfville, and Hantsport.
Pianos on the Streets
Residents were forced from their homes, but made brave efforts to save some of their belongings and homes. At the time grand pianos were one of the most valuable pieces in a home and many people pulled their pianos into the street but had to abandon them when the fire got too strong. Imagine the sight of a row of burning pianos on the streets.
Every church in Windsor was lost except the Anglican Church. Tradition tells that the students of Kings College saved the building by pouring water on the roof. Damage was estimated at two million dollars but only six hundred thousand dollars was insured. The miracle of the fire is that no lives were lost.
In the wake of the fire money, food, and supplies came from many places including Saint John, N.B., Boston and even Europe. The Military came with tents and supplies and erected a small tent city at Fort Edward to provide shelter for the sufferers and discourage looting. A year after the fire 150 new buildings were added, streets were relined and Windsor was functioning again.
Additional note: In 1924 history was almost repeated when a second major fire broke out in Windsor on November 9, 1924, in which several buildings that had survived the Great Fire were now destroyed, including Windsor's first Post Office.
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A Contemporary Note
Windsor's Quick As A Wink Theatre Society is about to present Glory Days: The TRUE Story of the Great Windsor Fire. Check out their website for details and dates!