Monday, September 14, 2015

Tragedy at Colony Farm

Colony Farm at Essondale was a thriving business into the 1940s. Farm work was seen a therapeutic and the patients would work in the fields and care for the animals. There were several teams of Clydesdale horses housed in a large arena with teamsters and dairy men. Married men lived in houses with their families and single men lived in bunks in various buildings. Everyone would gather in the huge dining room for their meals.

Those Clydesdale horses were a source of pride for all at Essondale. Maybe not everyone though. In December of 1946, a milker set a series of fires at Essondale, one of which burned the Clydesdale arena.

Essondale had its own fire department - nine full time employees and 20 volunteers - but they were no match for the determined arsonist setting the fires.

"The blaze that utterly destroyed the arena was the most tragic of all. Prideful teamsters and grooms wept as the foot-thick wooden beams burned, then collapsed. One employee and several young Clydesdale horses were lost. The Clydesdale operation was never the same again."

From Coquitlam - 100 Years.

Bob Gardner was the farm's foreman at the time. His daughter, Jenny, grew up at Essodale remembers that terrifying time.

"It was a traumatic experience. If you lived that close to fire, you never forget it. My hair turned white within a year and my dad's too. The arena was the first big fire...It was a massive, gorgeous building with huge oil paintings of the prize-winning Clydesdales and Holsteins, all the shiny harnesses, trophies and records.

As we opened our door we could see the tall tower of the arena collapsing, that's how intense the fire was. They got all the teams out by pulling them through the bull pens with wet sacks over their heads and then into the open fields. But they couldn't get to the young stock. It all happened so fast; men wearing glasses didn't even have time to put them on. One man was trapped upstairs. All the records and harnesses, everything was lost."

From Coquitlam - 100 Years.

According to a December 10, 1946 newspaper article, one man and five horses died in the fire, which left $200,000 worth of damage. Ian Ferguson was a 62-year-old teamster who ran into the fire to retrieve a suitcase full of money.

Twenty-four men were sleeping on the top floor of the two-storey building when the fire started. A farm employee, Bob Wall, was playing his radio in bed when he smelled smoke. He then saw the fire burning in the hay so he quickly woke the others and all escaped.

The farm superintendent, Peter Moore, said that if the wind had been blowing east, the fire would have spread to a nearby building housing 250 head of prize cattle.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill