Reprinted below is an account from the Vancouver Daily Province of October 13, 1916, of a major fire in the Port Hammond townsite. In a wood-framed town lit almost exclusively with fuel oil and wood stoves the risks were high. Unfortunate also was the lack of a pump car, capable of drawing water from a water source to a pressurized hose, within town. After the fire’s discovery, the call was put to the organized fire department in Vancouver for the use of theirs. When it was not available, the next available pumper from the now-defunct municipality of Point Grey was called out to Maple Ridge. Arriving from Vancouver’s west side over gravel roads and the newly opened Pitt River Bridge, the equipment was too late to be put to use. Despite the torching of Port Hammond, and later fires in Haney (1926), Hammond (1926), and Haney (1932), it was 1945 before the municipality organized its first fire department on a volunteer basis.
The article below describes the losses to Port Hammond’s business section, making a distinction between the value of the buildings (low) and their merchandise (high). For a commercial store owner in a rural hamlet, the loss of wares was far more onerous than the loss of a building, which could be erected relatively quickly and cheaply.
In a small aside at the end of the article, the author speculates on the cause of the blaze: “Tramps in a stable at the rear of the hotel area believed to have started the fire.” While both Port Hammond and Port Haney were rest stops for travellers on the Canadian Pacific, no cause of the 1916 fire was substantiated.
Vancouver Daily Province
October 13, 1916
PORT HAMMOND IS IN ASHES AFTER EARLY FIRE
Business Section of Fraser River Town Caught Before Daylight
Loss Has Been Estimated Between Sixty-five and Seventy-five Thousand
Engine from Point Grey Did Not Reach Place to Give Assistance
Dale’s Store and Hotel Constitute Practically a Total Loss
Fire swept through the business section of Port Hammond, twenty-five miles from Vancouver, on the mainline of the CPR, early this morning, causing a loss conservatively estimated at $65,000 to $75,000, destroying the hotel, Hammond Stores, the Bank of Hamilton, BC Telephone Company’s warehouse, and several other buildings.
The fire broke out in an outhouse behind the Hammond Stores, between 3 and 4 o’clock, and was soon communicated to the store barns. The Crescent Hotel building, in which the stores were situated, was an old wooden structure, and this fell an easy prey to the flames. Fanned by the breeze it created, the fire next spread to the Bank of Hamilton, and despite the efforts of the volunteer fire fighters, who bravely fought against the flames with a hastily-formed bucket brigade, and the fire apparatus available, the bank offices and the apartments of the manager above, were soon destroyed. The warehouse and barn belonging to the BC Telephone Company were next in line, and these, too were soon reduced to glowing embers. The local telephone system was put out of business by the burning of a pole line, but the toll lines are still intact. The office exchange was saved. Great assistance in fighting the flames was afforded by members of the staff of the Hartnell [Hammond] Mill, a few hundred yards away from the scene of the fire.
The fire had considerable headway when it was first discovered, and almost before the occupants of the hotel and nearby buildings had been awakened, the flames were shooting skyward through the fog, showing opal in the thick atmosphere. It was realized from the outset that the flames could not be overcome in the buildings in which they started, and a telephone call for help was sent in to Assistant Fire Chief Thompson of the Vancouver department, asking for a pumping engine.
There was no “pumper” which could be spared from the city which would be able to make the distance in anything like good time, so Chief Thompson communicated with Chief Turner of Point Grey, and a big automobile pumping engine was sent from that department, but did not arrive until the fire had been almost extinguished.
For a time it looked as if the whole town would be wiped out, and practically every house was cleared of its furniture, great piles of household belongings being scattered over the streets and on vacant premises. Men, women and children joined in the fight against the spread of the fire, and in the work of removing furniture and personal belongings from the threatened buildings.
While the value of the buildings destroyed will not, it is estimated, figure very high in the proportion of the loss, the stock of merchandise, hardware, farming implements, etc., carried by the ammond Stores, together with the Hotel fittings and furniture and the goods stored in the barns and outhouses, as well as the destruction of the bank premises and the loss to the telephone company will bring the aggregate loss, it is declared, close to $75,000.
The chief losses are the store and hotel owned by Mr. J. M. Dale. All the stock of Mrs. Thompson’s millinery store was saved by volunteers. An empty store of the Isaacs estate was burned, as was also J.J. Wilson’s poolroom and candy shop, Dale’s warehouse. Tramps in a stable at the rear of the hotel are believed to have started the fire. Cordelle’s store was saved, as well as the post office. The Bank of Hamilton’s money and books are safe in the vault, Manager G. Tyler announced today.