The Development Of Firefighting Companies

During the first part of the nineteenth century Quebec, Newfoundland and the Maritimes were enhancing and expanding their established fire protection measures.   Settlement continued to spread westward.  But for smaller towns that were just emerging in Ontario the ability to protect property from fire damage and destruction was only just beginning.

Early 1800’s – The town of York, (now Toronto) created a bucket regulation stating that home owners must have 2 two-gallon buckets made of canvas, leather or wood, painted with the owner’s name, as well as two ladders.  One ladder went to the eaves of the building and the other up the roof to the chimney.  By this time Montreal led the way in sophistication and size of municipal fire protection organizations, having five fire engines.

1824 – Following the fire which destroyed the Parliament Buildings, the Upper Canada Gazette was critical of the lack of organized firefighting.  Two years later an act was put into place to form a volunteer fire company.  The incentive came as an exemption to serve on juries, join the militia or perform other parish duties.

Mid 1800’s – Volunteer fire companies continued to grow throughout this period.  They became politically influential and there were many rivalries.  They lost some influence with the arrival of steam fire engines and hydrant water systems, which required fewer men to work at the fire scene.  At this time, volunteer fire fighters had to provide their own leather helmets and jackets for protection from falling debris.

An Early Fire Company Port Hope, Ontario

To gain more control, large municipalities began phasing out volunteer positions in favour of paid positions.  Machinery, horses and equipment required constant maintenance which was best performed by full-time staff. Smaller communities who could not afford paid professionals continued to rely on volunteers.

In 1845, The Hudson’s Bay Company appears to have purchased the first fire engines for the Canadian Prairies to provide fire protection to its trading posts.

The burning of the House of Assembly, Montreal, 1849

The first was listed at £138 and was capable of discharging from 80-100 gallons of water per minute.  As the Canadian Pacific Railway pushed across the land, towns began appearing along with their own volunteer fire brigades.

Late 1800’s – Canadian cities were growing larger with fairly sophisticated fire protection, such as steam fire engines, horse-drawn apparatus, hydrant systems and professional fire departments. Building codes were adopted to subdivide large store houses with fire walls, create fire resistance between floors and provide minimum space between structures.