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Fire Fiend Threatens Town
Returning Time After Time

By Paul Arculus

Fire Returns to Port Perry in 1891 

  Once again, on Oct. 22, 1891, residents of the town were awakened in the middle of the night by the dreadful clatter of the fire bell when a huge blaze was discovered underway in the heart of downtown.

Sketch to the Laing & Meharry building from 1885

   The flames had already made themselves visible through the roof at the rear of the Laing & Meharry hardware store. All the buildings were new brick structures, which had fortunately been built with fire walls, and the fire was brought under control by 4 a.m. due to the extraordinary efforts of the local fire company and its excellent fire engine, which poured tons of water onto the blaze. Laing & Meharry's establishment was completely gutted and their stock completely destroyed.
   Mr. Allison's Block west of the burned building was damaged to quite an extent.
   Aaron Ross & Sons costly and handsome new block was threatened, but had little damage.


The Blaze of 1893  

  The final blaze of the 1800s occurred on April 27, 1893 when the dry goods store of Jones & Co. was found on fire. By the time the alarm had been sounded the fire had fully engulfed the building and despite valiant attempts to extinguish it, it was in vain. Firemen instead directed their efforts to saving adjoining properties which otherwise would have fallen a victim to the flames.
   The large brick block containing both Jones & Co. Dry Goods and Phillipo & Meharry's Grocery was burned to the ground along with the contents. Estimated cost of damage $30,000.


Fire Strikes Again in 1901

  It was 17 years before the next major fire struck at the heart of the community... the business core of Port Perry. This ocurred on the night of September 18, 1901.
   At midnight, A.J. Sproule's bakery shop (Brock's for Kids) was discovered to be on fire. Within moments, aided by a strong wind, the fire had spread to the adjoining stores at both sides.
   Mr. Sproule is reported to have locked the front door of his shop from the inside, then made his way through to the back of his bakery, past the ovens and closed the rear door, locking it behind him as he left for the night unaware of what was to happen in the hours following.


   By the time the fire engine had arrived all the buildings from Allison's drug store to Ross's store on the east were ablaze.
   Destroyed were the Purdy Block (stores numbered 174 to 180 on the south side of Queen St.). Directly east of the Purdy block was the store of Aaron Ross and Sons and the Western Bank (Brock's Dept. Store). To the west of the Purdy block was the Allison Block (Nutty Chocolatier and Dana's Jewellery). Allison's was a drug store occupying the area of both present stores.
   Shortly after the firefighters arrived, a loud explosion rocked the Allison building, no doubt from the chemicals contained in the drug store.
   The firemen directed their attention to the section of the block which was least affected; the Western Bank and Ross's. Hundreds of gallons of water were poured onto the roof of the building until it finally gave way. The volumes of water brought the fire to a halt in that location so that structurally, the main floors were left unharmed by fire, although water damaged all the stock and facilities on the main floor. The firemen then gave their attention to the remainder of the block, moving westward.
   By morning it was obvious that the entire block was virtually destroyed, with the exception of the brick fronts of the Western Bank and Ross's store which were largely intact. The heat had also destroyed a number of plate glass windows on the opposite side of the street.
   Businesses destroyed as a result of the fire, from east to west were: The Western Bank; A. Ross and Sons, general merchants; A.J. Sproule, baker; S.T. Cawker & Sons, butchers; E.H. Purdy produce merchant and grocer; R. Dawson, barber; C.H. Allison, druggist.
   The following businesses located in the second floors of these buildings and were also destroyed: W.H. Harris, barrister; David J. Adams, land and money broker; S.M. Newton, publisher (Port Perry Standard); G.A. Powers, tailor; J.A. Murray, dentist; Miss Harrison, dressmaker; Wm. Tremeer, dwelling; Misses McKnight and Crooks, dressmakers; H.B. Clemes and R.G. Baird. Within days of the fire many of the businesses had relocated in temporary facilities.
   The week following the 1901 fire, the editor of the Oshawa Vindicator wrote the following in his paper:

   "Port Perry Council is figuring on a better fire protection, but what prompts them to do so we cannot understand, as nine out of 10 of those burnt out there always make big money out of fires. They pay very low rates, considering the dead certainty of a sweeping conflagration every year or two, and, besides, they have no trouble in placing a half more insurance in every case then the building or stock of goods is worth."
   Henry Parsons, editor of Port Perry's North Ontario Observer responded immediately in his next issue (Oct. 31, 1910): "No man in the country knows better than the writer of the above scandalous libel that there is not a word of truth in it...The vileness of this attack on the businessmen of Port Perry is only equalled by his lying assertions regarding their conduct, and the sooner the good people of Oshawa are made cognizant of the fact that so unscrupulous a defamer has found refuge within its borders the better so that they may make immediate steps to have the brute muzzled before his presence and vile scribbling contaminate the citizens of that fair and prosperous town. Such an unprincipled moral assassin should not be allowed to find a resting place in a civilized community."
   The 1901 fire was the last major fire to deface the stores of downtown Port Perry, although other potentially dangerous fires fires in the downtown area ocurred at Courtice and Jeffrey's Harness Shop, (Genuine Article and Little Harbour Trading Co.), Hogg & Lytle (the old mill) and the Carnegies Ford dealership at the rear of Carnegie Hardware store (Home Hardware), but these were also contained to small areas and inflicted no serious damage to adjoining structures.


Other Significant Fires

JUNE 1902 - Carnegie Flouring and Planning Mills destroyed.

APRIL 1926 - The Port Perry Union School was totally destroyed by fire. Building was valued at $65,000.

NOV. 1930 - The fine brick home of the Joshua Curts family at the corner of Scugog St., destroyed by fire.

FEB. 1936 - Fire in downtown Port perry to Carnegie Hardware. Fire destroyed upper story when roof fell in. Damage estimate $15,000.

MAY 1951 - Lakeshore Knitting Mill and Morrow Farm Equipment destroyed by fire. Estimated damage about $125,000.



OCT. 1951 - The James Goodall Mill (pictured) at the lakefront was totally destroyed and damaged a Lake Scugog Lumber building, causing damage to building and contents at $95,000.

FEB. 1959 - Fire the Master Feeds elevator caused $35,000 damage.

MAR. 1982 - Fire ravaged the warehouse and offices of Jerry's Produce causing $1.5 million in damage.



MAY 1998 - Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and its adjoining hall were completely destroyed in spectacular morning fire. Damage was estimated at more than $2 million.

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MERCHANTS OF OLD PORT PERRY
By: Paul Arculus



UXBRIDGE: THE
GOOD OLD DAYS

By: J. Peter Hvidsten



OUT OF THE ASHES
A Century of Progress
By: J. Peter Hvidsten