Monday, June 8, 2015

Vancouver Explodes

Vancouver was incorporated on April 6, 1886 so that is our official birthday. However, many people feel that June 13, 1886 was the day that Vancouver was truly born.

Sunday, June 13, 1886 was a peaceful sunny day. Art Sullivan and a friend were lazing in a half-decked pleasure sloop just off the Burrard Inlet shore near the Indian Mission Church, west of Moodyville. Art and his mother were proprietors of the prosperous Gold's Hotel on Water Street. The Vancouver boom had been good to them and many others.

Suddenly, a fierce, freakish western squall swooped down on English Bay and the Inlet.

On the south shore, clearing fires to the west town were inflamed. The small, controlled blazes burst into a thundering menace.

Sullivan swung the sloop across the wind to head to the city wharf at the foot of Carrall Street. With two reefs in the mainsail, the jib blown away and his shipmate bailing furiously, he couldn't make the long slant to the wharf. He ended up at Hastings Mill, half a mile past the newly built wharf. That trip took less than twenty minutes.

That was all the time it took for the blossoming city of Vancouver to wiped off the face of the earth.

First warning of the impending disaster was the dense cloud of smoke from the western clearing. Then came the shouts of men running from the clearing camps, which were quickly followed by the clanging of the bell at St. James' Church at Powell Street and Westminster Road. Father Clinton had seen the mass of smoke in the distance and guessed correctly as to what it was.

There was no way to fight this fire. In seconds, not minutes the fire swept across the tangle of felled trees and brush along the shore of the inlet. It torched its way through the dense timber still standing south of Hastings Street. The flames jumped ahead of and cut off the men from the clearing gangs as they rallied on the Regina Hotel in its cleared area west of Cambie Street.

There were four avenues of escape for those in town; the city wharf at Carrall, along the CPR embankment or the road to Hastings Mill, to False Creek at Pender and Carrall or out the Wesminster Road and across the bridge to the south shore of the creek.

On the south shore, Sam Brighouse and George Black were racing horses that morning. One of the spectators, Lewis Carter - owner of Carter House - tried to make his way back into the city. He got across the bridge when the flames forced him into False Creek.

Houses in Vancouver that day did not 'catch fire'. Paint or the pitch on new boards blistered and ran, walls and roofs shimmered with heat waves for a second or two then the whole exterior of the building was a single mass of flame.

One eyewitness said, "Vancouver did not burn - it exploded."

The above information was taken from the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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