However, help was on its way. Telegraphs and telephones trasnsmitted news of this calamity to surrounding districts and nature provided a more dramatic signal. Someone in New Westminster saw a great column of black smoke rising to the sky not long before carriages and wagons carrying survivors arrived. Another person recalls being in church in Port Moody and ashes falling on the hymnbooks.
Then there were the dead. The exact number of people who perished that Sunday afternoon will never be known for the city had many newcomers, single men whose relatives didn't know where they were. Some victims were buried where the bodies were found and others were shipped to New Westminster for burial - Vancouver didn't have a cemetary or a coroner at this time.
Now that could have been the end of the city of Vancouver. A fire like that was devastating and rebuilding was an arduous task. However, spirits had been so high before the fire that even a disaster such as this couldn't get the people down.
Walter Gravely, the real estate broker, had many of his important documents - including the deed to the first lot sold by the CPR in Vancouver, which he had purchased and kept to his dying day - in a trunk in the Sunnyside Hotel. The hotel burned to the ground but the papers had been sucked up by the tremendous wind that accompanied the fire then the papers were deposited, still tied together and basically unharmed. They were returned to him.
Mayor Maclean set up city hall in a tent and got to work. He telegraphed the Dominion Goverment for government aid to help and received a prompt reply promising $5,000. He even wrote a friend in Montreal and invited him to come out and see the spirit of the people. In the space of two weeks, two hundred homes were under way.
On May 23, 1887 the first transcontinental train pulled into a thriving city that bore little resemblance to the fire ravaged community it had been less than a year ago. Our journey to becoming a metropolis of a million souls had begun.
I love this story. It shows the heart and passion of the early settlers of Vancouver. The determination and willingness to make things work. I just wish we saw more of that today instead of people complaining and looking for a handout.
Karen Magill, Vancouver, June 13, 1886, fire, Burrard Inlet, British Columbia