Friday 20 April 2018

The Great Fire of Toronto, 1904

Yesterday, April 19, marked the anniversary of the Great Fire of Toronto.

On the windy and cold April evening in 1904, flames were spotted in an industrial building on Wellington Street, just west of Bay. The fire quickly spread in every direction and continued until around 5pm the following day. The fire affected about 13 acres of commercial property downtown, and destroyed over 100 buildings. Five thousand people were left without work.

The aftermath of the Great Fire, 1904

City of  Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, item 2

It affected our community and our city, and yet the Great Fire seems to go unmentioned in any of Archbishop Denis O’Connor’s records. Our bishop’s papers represent the administrative history of the Archdiocese, and thankfully no Archdiocesan property was affected by the fire.

We were excited to find the fire documented in the daily journals of Toronto Catholic Matthew O’Connor. Records of parishioners fall outside of our collection mandate, but somehow O'Connor's journals found their way into our collection. And, in moments like this, we're especially thankful to have them.

The Greatest Fire in Toronto's history began tonight at 8:30 and continued all night... began on Wellington Street opposite Holland House. Destroying both sides of Bay from Melinda down to the Bay...Front Street.. Esplanade ave. all business places in neighborhood. loss about $10 000 000. Cold stormy night for the fire.

Matthew O'Connor Daily Journal, 1904
DC Item #59
ARCAT Desk Calendar Collection

It's interesting to see the fire described by a Torontonian of the day. The scope and estimated damage were unlike anything the city had seen in its history. Some amazing footage of the fire was captured and distributed across Canada by photographer George Scott and his assistant. Scott's film is now available on Youtube. Video Courtesy of Library & Archives Canada, ISN #16107

The rebuilding in the years that followed the Fire helped shape the city as we know it today. Tucked into O'Connor's journal was a clipping showing plans for the new Union Station to be built in the "Burnt District".

undated clipping
DC Item #59
ARCAT Desk Calendar Collection

You can find more information and more photographs of Great Fire of Toronto on the Archives of Ontario website here.

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