Vancouver is Canada‘s third largest, and most beautiful, city, although Victoria might like to contend for the beauty title. On June 13, 1886, Vancouver was a mass of smouldering rubble. It was not only costly and inconvenient, but embarrassing, because the first C.P.R. transcontinental train was due to arrive at Port Moody on July 4. Arrangements were being made to extend the railway into Vancouver, and the arrival of the first train must be a gala occasion (see my May 23 post Vancouver Citizens Celebrate).
The fire began on Sunday afternoon owing to a mistake by a young construction worker, George Keefer. His uncle was one of the contractors building the C.P.R. extension into Vancouver. Young George had been instructed to clear some land along the waterfront, to provide a camping space for a band of Stikine Indians who had been engaged to do construction work. They were due to arrive in canoes. There were big trees to be cleared away and George could think of no quicker way than to burn them. He started a number of fires at strategic places, but suddenly a brisk wind blew up. The flames were carried into the residential district and the entire area was destroyed within an hour. Only Hastings Mill and a few small buildings were saved. Some lives were lost.
As far as it is known, young George was not punished. He lived to see Vancouver become a great seaport, with landing places for ocean liners where he first cleared the space for the Stikine Indian camp.
The rebuilding of the city, which had only been incorporated a few weeks before the fire, was done in record time, even though they did not have today’s modern equipment. By three o’clock Monday morning, teams of horses were bringing in new lumber for buildings. The city fathers put up a tent at the foot of what is now Carrall Street, and directed the work from there. By June 15, twenty buildings were under way. The aldermen also obtained Vancouver’s first loan, for the purchase of a fire engine!
Strangely enough, the fire took place on the anniversary of the day that Captain George Vancouver explored the area in 1792.
So these details are just some of the story. To read more about this, I suggest the Village Chronicler, and The History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Then, there are a few blogs I recommend, such as Past Tense Blog, and Miss604 and Venture Vancouver.