Great Fire

Great Fire

Remembering the Great Fire of 1892

This July marks the 125th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1892, which destroyed much of St. John’s and is remembered as the worst disaster to befall the city.
Hot, dry weather and strong winds bolstered a fire which is believed to have begun in a stable near the intersection of Pennywell and Freshwater Roads. The blaze quickly spread through the streets leaving approximately 12,000 people homeless and the downtown commercial district wiped out.
In 1892 Bannerman Park housed many of the people left homeless by the fire in a makeshift tent city. It will be the centre of the City’s commemorative activities on Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9, 2017.

To mark the anniversary of the Great Fire, residents and visitors are invited to visit an archival photography exhibition, attend a song and story circle concert in the park and take part in a historical walk through the area affected by the fire.

 

Event Listings July 8 and 9, 2017 

School of Industry: Knitting and Weaving
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s Mounted Unit
St. John’s Regional Fire Department
Song and Story Circle Concert
From the Archives Photo Exhibition
The Commissariat Provincial Historic Site
Central Fire Station Museum Visits
Fire Walk: A Guided Tour 
Panel Discussion - The Great Fire of 1892: Past, Present, and Future
Reimagine St. John’s!


 

View of the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1892. Looking west from the roof of a house on Devon Row.
Image courtesy of the City of St. John’s Archives.

 

And the poor inhabitants, where were they?
It made the heart ache to see the groups of men,

women and children, with weary, blood-shot eyes
and smoke begrimed faces, standing over their
scraps of furniture and clothing -- some of them
asleep on the ground from utter exhaustion --
all with despondency depicted on their faces.
They filled the park and grounds around the city.
Many hundreds escaped with nothing but the
clothes they wore. At least twelve thousand people

were burnt out.

Rev. Moses J. Harvey,
The Great Fire in St. John’s Newfoundland, 8 July, 1892

 

     Funded in part by the Government of Canada.

     Financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.
 

Schedule of Events

 
School of Industry: Knitting and Weaving
Saturday, July 8
Noon to 2 p.m., 3 to 5 p.m.
Bannerman Park – look for the white City of St. John’s tents!

After the Great Fire of 1892, a local relief committee was formed and one of its activities was to help find employment or provide training for those left jobless following the fire. A “School of Industry” was opened to teach women left unemployed by the fire spinning or knitting, and they also covered travel costs for many women wishing to work in Canada or the United States. Construction workers who lost their tools in the fire could also apply to the committee for new ones.

As we reflect on this historic event and acknowledge the efforts of so many who helped St John’s recover from the Great Fire of 1892, the City of St John’s and the  Anna Templeton Centre for Craft Art & Design invite you to visit Bannerman park and try your hand at spinning and weaving. 

Spinning expert Linda Lewis will demonstrate spinning on the wheel and share her expertise in raising sheep and llama for their fleece – and the process of taking the wool from the animal and getting it ready to spin, knit, and weave.  Park visitors will be invited to try spinning using a potato drop spindle to prep some fleece.  These hand-spun fibers may then be incorporated into their small woven tapestry-like image.  Guiding the weaving experience will be expert Katie Parnham who will have a small loom in the park to demonstrate how it is set up and used for weaving.  The “School of Industry” was a strong influence in developing the rich history of craft in Newfoundland & Labrador.
 
Meet the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s Mounted Unit
Saturday, July 8
1 to 2 p.m.
Bannerman Park

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s Mounted Unit was founded in 1873, 19 years before the Great Fire of 1892. The Constabulary’s modern-day Mounted Unit will make an appearance in Bannerman Park at 1:00 p.m. and the public is invited to meet them and learn more about the mighty horses of the Mounted Unit and the dedicated officers that work with them.
 
Meet the St. John’s Regional Fire Department
Saturday, July 8
Noon to 5 p.m.
Bannerman Park, near Bannerman Road parking area.

Come get an up-close and personal look at a real fire engine and meet Sparky, the St. John’s Regional Fire Department’s official mascot! The St. John's Regional Fire Department will be on site with one of their fire engines in Bannerman Park to help spread the word about fire safety and prevention. The Great Fire of 1892 may have been 125 years ago, but fire safety is important to ensuring that such a disaster never occurs again.
 
Song and Story Circle Concert
Saturday, July 8
2 to 3:30 p.m. 
Bannerman Park Pavilion

In the early days after the fire when many of the newly homeless were accommodated as well as possible in Bannerman Park, songs, recitations, and stories would have been a welcome break in the reality of having lost everything but the clothes on their backs, which was the fact for many of those affected. Bring along your own chair or blanket and join an incredible group of performers for an afternoon of traditional entertainment.
The concert will open with greetings from His Honour, The Honourable Frank F. Fagan, CM, ONL, MBA, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. The concert features host Eleanor Dawson with performers Mary Fearon, Pamela Morgan, Fergus O’Byrne, Jim Payne, and Dave Penny.
 
From the Archives Photo Exhibition
Saturday, July 8 & Sunday, July 9
Noon to 5 p.m.
Bannerman Park Poolhouse

Archival photos showing old St. John’s during the era of the Great Fire, including striking images of the destruction and aftermath, will be on display in the multipurpose room of the Bannerman Park Poolhouse throughout the weekend.
 
The Commissariat Provincial Historic Site
Saturday, July 8
9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Commissariat Provincial Historic Site, 50 Military Road

Free admission to The Commissariat all day - come explore this historic site which predates the Great Fire! There will be light refreshments and the chance to take part in a collaborative, fire-themed community art piece!
Built by British Military Engineers in 1818-1820, The Commissariat is the last original, intact structure that was part of an extensive British military complex in St. John's - a complex that originally included Fort Townshend (where The Rooms provincial art gallery, museum and archives is located today), Fort William (today a hotel), Signal Hill, Fort Amherst, and gun batteries up and down the coast.
Before the 1820s, Newfoundland was governed by the British navy - and the grandeur of The Commissariat says a lot about the power of the military here. This was the finest house in St. John's until Governor Cochrane's mansion, completed in 1831, was built next door. The Commissariat is still one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the province.
 
Central Fire Station Museum Visits
Saturday, July 8 & Sunday, July 9
Noon to 5 p.m.
Central Fire Station, 5 Fort Townshend

The museum at Central Fire station captures the history of fire fighting in St. John’s from the Great Fire of 1892 to today. There are displays of old equipment, firefighter protective clothing, breathing apparatus and other tools used to combat fires during the years even an old firefighting pumper wagon that the firefighters of the day used to pump water.  There are also pictures, uniforms, and a part of a fire pole from an old station to view. 
 Central Fire is accessible for persons with mobility issues. Public washrooms are available as is free parking at the back of the station with additional parking at Sobeys on Merrymeeting Road. Please DO NOT park in front of the station which faces Harvey Road – if there’s a fire to attend to the trucks need to leave the station quickly!
 
Fire Walk: A Guided Tour
Saturday, July 8
3:45 to 4:45 p.m.
Beginning at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, 200 Military Road

Join Intangible Cultural Heritage Development Officer, folklorist, and walking tour maven Dale Gilbert Jarvis (St. John’s Haunted Hike) on a historical walking tour of the area affected by the Great Fire of 1892. The tour concludes at Commissariat House, where participants are invited to stay for
 
Panel Discussion - The Great Fire of 1892: Past, Present, and Future
Sunday, July 9
2 to 3:30 p.m.
The Rooms, 9 Bonaventure Avenue

Join panelists Emily Campbell, Larry Dohey, Charles Henley, and moderator Jason Sellars for a lively discussion of the history and consequences of the Great Fire of 1892. Stay after the discussion for an interactive imagination session in partnership with the City of St. John’s, Assembly, and The Rooms – more information below.

Emily Campbell graduated with a Masters of Architecture from Dalhousie University in 2013.  Under the guidance of Niall Savage, Grant Wanzel, and Maria Elisa Navarro Morales she researched how to improve upon the common solution to mass housing: the soulless towers that have given urban density a bad rap. Emily developed a qualitative research method that helped her to identify the cultural significance behind urban vernacular housing form.  She designed a high-rise building that draws on the physical elements of a home that help us to feel pride and belonging in the places we live.

Emily is currently working as an Intern in Architecture with Fougere Menchenton and is actively involved in the discussion around design and development in St. John’s. She contributes regularly to the Overcast newspaper in a monthly column called "Urban Form" and sits on the Lecture Series Committee with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Architects. Since moving to St. John's, Emily has worked hard to break barriers to and build an awareness of the value of good design. She founded the Wandering Pavilion, the first initiative of a non-profit which she chairs called Assembly.

Larry Dohey is the Manager of Collections and Projects at the Rooms Provincial Archives. Previous to taking this position from 1993 - 2010 he was the Director and Staff Archivists for the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's and Director of the Basilica Museum and Library.

Since the early 1990's he has been an active member of the Association of Canadian Archivists serving as the Vice President from (2002-04) and as Co -Editor of the Association of Canadian Archivists Newsletter from 2005-09. At the local level he has served as the President of the Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Archivists 1995-99 and from 2003-06. He remains an active member and currently sits as Vice President of the Newfoundland Historical Society, the oldest historical group in Newfoundland and Labrador and serves as the Secretary Treasurer of the Irish Newfoundland Association.
 
Reimagine St. John’s!
Sunday, July 9
2 to 4 p.m.
The Rooms, 9 Bonaventure Avenue

Take part in an interactive imagination session with Assembly and The Rooms to reimagine St. John’s! If you had the chance to rebuild St. John’s, what would you do? This session has something for adults and kids alike: come to The Rooms to make your mark on a reimagined cityscape, redesign the downtown, build a popsicle stick structure to take home, and more!
 
Assembly is a non-profit association dedicated to fostering and celebrating design culture in Newfoundland and Labrador. This group was founded on the belief that good quality design can benefit the well-being of communities and is an important part of cultural life in the province. Towards this end, the mandate of the group is to hold public events, exhibitions, competitions and create publications on the topic of design. The intended effect will be to develop a greater design literacy in the general population, and have members of the public join us in demanding good design. Assembly’s first initiative was the Wandering Pavilion.

Haiku Competition
Wednesday, July 5 to Friday, July 7
Twitter @cityofstjohns
Take to Twitter to compose a Great Fire-themed haiku! One lucky poet will be selected to win an adventure for eight people in the 1892 Escape Room! Remember to use #GreatFire1892 in your haiku tweets!