St. John's, QB Fire, Jun 1876



Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.

ST. ALBANS, June 18.----A terrible conflagration to-day almost entirely destroyed the thriving town of St. John's Province of Quebec, situated forty-four miles north of this place on the road to Montreal and at the junction of the Central Vermont and Grand Trunk Roads. The place has a population of about seven thousand, several large manufacturing interests and a large trade in hay, oats, and other country products. This morning at about 9 o'clock the alarm was given, the fire being discovered in the vicinity of Bousquet's lumber mill, which is situated just north of the railroad bridge over the St. John's River, and at the extreme south-east corner of the town. The wind was blowing a gale form the south, and the town being mostly built of wood, the flames spread with terrible rapidity. The water-works had been stopped to repair the engine, thus adding to delay. Aid was at once telegraphed for, and the local Fire Department, which is meager, vainly fought against the rushing flames. Within an hour after the first town, comprising about half a mile in length on three streets, with several cross streets. The area between the river and the railroad was enveloped in flames. Three fire companies and a hook and ladder company from this place responded to the call as speedily as possible, and reached the scene by special train at 12:50. About two-hundred and fifty men went from here, accompanied by THE TIMES and other press representatives and one from Montreal arrived at about the same time. The scene was terrible, the surging flames having full sway as far as one could see, and the smoke and heat being almost stifling. The inhabitants, many of whom barely had time to escape with their lives, leaving clothes and everything behind, were almost crazed with excitement and fear. It was all but impossible to obtain trustworthy information, and quite so to transmit it as all telegraphic communication, save by one wire to Montreal, was cut off. There was no hope of saving the business portion of the town, and the heroic efforts of the firemen were directed to preventing the spread of the flames beyond and to saving such outlying portion of the village as there was hope for. The churches, which are mostly situated in the north-western portion of the town, were saved, and at about 3 o'clock the progress of the flames was arrested. The scene was one of destruction. The town seemed to have literally crumbled away, leaving but a few smoldering piles of ashes and embers. Every place of business and public office was destroyed, including about fifty stores, five hotels, two factories, two banks, the United States and British Custom-houses, the American Consulate and Consul's residence, the Post Office, the St. John's News office, several lumber mills, six boats which lay at the wharves, 6,000 tons of coal, 12,000 bushels of oats, and buildings and residences the number of which cannot yet be ascertained.

Very little of the personal property was saved from the buildings, the spread of the fire being so rapid as to give the people barely time to escape with their lives. Such articles of furniture and goods as were gotten out, pianos, trunks, and furniture, were mostly dumped into the river, which is filled with a mass of floating and charred debris. One woman, Miss Lay, is known to have been burned, and several others are reported missing. Mrs. Lynch, a young man named Brow, Joseph W. Thomas, and Charles Arpand, were badly burned. More than 350 families were left houseless and most of them utterly destitute, having nothing but the clothes on their backs, and in many instances that was a scanty allowance. Some of the business blocks and one of the banks were new, and some of them expensive structures. The St. John's Bank saved its paper money, but everything else was in the vaults. The vaults of the bank contained large amounts of specie, and the fire companies, as soon as the flames were under control, played on them with such effect that it is hoped the contents can be saved. The bank of St. John's was a beautiful cut stone building. Stone buildings, with iron shutters, supposed to have been fireproof, burned like tinder. The woolen company had $80,000 worth of flannels' burned. The houses were mostly of brick and stone.

M. Marchand, member of the Canadian Parliament, telegraphed the Governor General for permission to provide for the houseless and destitute populace in the Government barracks, which fortunately escaped the general destruction. To-night they will be housed there, a strong force of special Police being organized to keep order. Their food must come from outside sources, and the charity of the people must be invoked to relieve many from actual want and starvation. The Canadian Government has been advised of the situation and aid is expected. It will take years to rebuild what was yesterday as prosperous and thriving a town as any in the province, if, indeed, it ever recovers from the blow. It is impossible at present to ascertain the amount of loss, but the leading insurance agent believes it will exceed a million of dollars. The insurance is mostly in British companies, and amounts to about $200,000. The Royan Canadian loses $64,000; the Stadacona of Quebec, $53,200; Citizens' of Montreal, $17,800; Provincial of Toronto, $20,800; National, Montreal, $22,000; Agricultural, $6,400. The Ætna and Hartford Companies sustain small losses. The origin of the fire is unknown, but it is generally believed to be the work of an incendiary. Two tramps are under arrest on suspicion.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Jun 1876