Remembering New West’s Great Fire in 1898
Local blog Regarding Place has an interesting feature called “A Year in Five Minutes” in which they write a quick overview of the highlights of a given year in history here in the GVRD. The latest was 1898, which was marked by (among other things), New Westminster’s Great Fire :
Another Great Fire
The year was bad for New Westminster. The entire downtown section of the city was burned in a great fire September 10/11, including almost all the commercial section. Hundreds were left homeless. Almost 60 city blocks were leveled. Vancouver Fire Department historian Alex Matches writes: “The fire started in a riverfront hay storage warehouse and spread to two sternwheel river boats, the Edgar and the Gladys, which drifted down river setting fire to every wharf they touched. The raging fire then jumped Front Street and was quickly spread uptown by fierce winds.” Damage was estimated at $2.5 million, an enormous amount in 1898 dollars. Only two brick buildings were left standing. The VFD had saved one of them.
The VFD had a busy year closer to home: after a few years in which fewer than 100 fire alarms came in annually (58 alarms in 1894, 97 the following year, 64 in 1896 and 62 in 1897) expansion of the city—largely fueled by the Klondike Gold Rush—led to 131 alarms, the highest the city had experienced since incorporation 12 years earlier.