A drawing of the Quebec Settlement

A drawing of the Quebec Settlement

The Beginning Of The Fight Against Fires

During this early period of settlement in Canada, buildings were generally constructed of wood. Lumber was the most prominent building material available to those who cleared the heavily forested areas in order to establish themselves. Many towns were based on the European tradition of a compact entity to protect themselves from enemies and the convenience of close commercial and social spheres. This led to many great fires recorded in Canada’s early settled history.

1629 – The first recorded fire of note in Canada was when the British agents set fire to Quebec City.  Champlain ordered the tolling of the tower bell to call citizens and soldiers out with buckets, axes and bars to suppress the fire. The main effort was the demolition of buildings in the path of the flames — a revolutionary step forward.

The 1700’s

Early Fire Watchman’s Rattle to alert fire fighters

Slowly settlers improved town planning and the quality of their buildings, but the temptation to rebuild makeshift structures of wood for basic shelter generally won out.  The alarm of fire was announced by the ringing of the church bell, or a night watchman equipped with a large rattle who called out the warning through the village.  The night watches responsibilities also included establishing control at the scene, prevention of looting and to organize the residents into bucket brigades to suppress the fire.

1754 on – The first organized fire department in Canada was created in Halifax, Nova Scotia, originally named the Union Fire Club.  The next companies to become established in the Maritimes in the 1780’s, were conceived as a mutual insurance and protection organization, which followed the governors requested rules and regulations.

1763 on – A Club de Feu (Fire Club) was organized in Montreal to salvage goods from burning buildings. It is believed that Montreal was the first Canadian city to acquire a fire engine in 1765.