Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fleeing the FIre

When I left off Monday, 1886 Vancouver had just gone up in flames. The townfolk saved what they carried. Nothing else. J.Z. Hall and Sam Greer's daughter were on their way to teach Sunday school. Hall went back inside to get his bible, which he had forgotten. While waiting , Miss Greer saw the smoke and called out to Hall. After the fire, the only things Hall owned were the clothes on his back and his bible.

Miss Greet helped Mrs. Ben Wilson, a neighbour,carry her sewing-machine into the inlet's water.  There she, Hall and Wilson waited until the fire passed. The postmaster, Mr. Miller, ran for the mill with the post office cash-box. His glasses were carefully balanced on top of it. Ike Johns managed to save his customs register and that's it.

A young man along Cordova Street lashed a horse harnessed to an old buckboard with a canvas tied over its load. A wind blew the canvas away and in the buckboard was the body of his mother. The 300-pound woman died the night before. A man ran  by, swinging a dead goose by the neck and laughing crazily.

Another man struggled to carry a mattress and half a brass bed. He dropped them in the street and ran back to get his wife and children, who he forgot. Two men ran past a house and stopped. They forced a woman and a little girl to vacate. The woman was in tears because the men wouldn't let her wait to put shoes on the little girl's feet. These refugees all headed for Hastings Mill.

Another danger was the fact there were explosives stored in town. These were the responsibility of drivers employed by the merchants involved. Hugh Campbell was on Water Street near Cambie and he refused to flee until he loaded seven cases of dynamite. Farther down the same street, teamster Harry Berry and two men put 20 barrels of blasting powder on his dray, wrapped them in wet blankets and forced his team through the flames down Carrall Street to False Creek, where he drove them into the water.

Among those who retreated to False Creek were Magistrate Boultbee, C. Gardner Johnson, Bailey, the bartender of Balfour's Hotel and a stranger carrying a valise. They had been surrounded by flames while trying to save the hotel.  On their way to False Creek, they passed a man throwing water from the side of the road onto a woodpile. He refuse to come with them and was burned to death.

At Pender and Carrall Streets, the group could go no farther and lay down in a small patch of gravel.

"To the westward side," said Gardner Johnson, "a large frame house was burning and it was so near that the burning timber came falling around us, causing us agonies I cannot describe. Bailey said he could not stand this and said he was going to to get through at any cost, but he could not penetrate a foot in the flames, and after running around for a few seconds, he dropped and burned up before our eyes."

Johnson was on the windward side of the three. He borrowed the stranger's valise to shield his head. Inside the valise was a loaded revolver and the heat exploded the cartridges.

The fire roared past and burned out so they headed for the creek  and scrambled along the shore, half in and half out the water. The deep bay in the creek shielded that part of the town built on the Westminster Road where Gardner Johnson lived. When he arrived at his cottage, his wife was standing outside, looking for him. In later years, he said,

"I could not go and speak to her, but I remember sitting down on the steps and beginning to cry."

The information above is from the book, Vancouver, from Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Such a sad experience for those people. An earthquake in San Francisco in the early 1900's nearly demolished SF with the quake and the fires that came after.

    1. Some of those people came to Vancouver! Thanks for reading Lee.