Fiend Threatens Town
Returning Time After Time
By Paul Arculus
Returns to Port Perry in 1891
Once again, on Oct. 22, 1891, residents
of the town were awakened in the middle of the night
by the dreadful clatter of the fire bell when a
huge blaze was discovered underway in the heart
Sketch to the Laing & Meharry
building from 1885
The flames had already made themselves
visible through the roof at the rear of the Laing
& Meharry hardware store. All the buildings were
new brick structures, which had fortunately been
built with fire walls, and the fire was brought
under control by 4 a.m. due to the extraordinary
efforts of the local fire company and its excellent
fire engine, which poured tons of water onto the
blaze. Laing & Meharry's establishment was completely
gutted and their stock completely destroyed.
Mr. Allison's Block west of the
burned building was damaged to quite an extent.
Aaron Ross & Sons costly and handsome
new block was threatened, but had little damage.
The Blaze of
The final blaze of the 1800s occurred
on April 27, 1893 when the dry goods store of Jones
& Co. was found on fire. By the time the alarm had
been sounded the fire had fully engulfed the building
and despite valiant attempts to extinguish it, it
was in vain. Firemen instead directed their efforts
to saving adjoining properties which otherwise would
have fallen a victim to the flames.
The large brick block containing
both Jones & Co. Dry Goods and Phillipo & Meharry's
Grocery was burned to the ground along with the
contents. Estimated cost of damage $30,000.
Again in 1901
It was 17 years before the next major
fire struck at the heart of the community... the
business core of Port Perry. This ocurred on the
night of September 18, 1901.
At midnight, A.J. Sproule's bakery
shop (Brock's for Kids) was discovered to be on
fire. Within moments, aided by a strong wind, the
fire had spread to the adjoining stores at both
Mr. Sproule is reported to have
locked the front door of his shop from the inside,
then made his way through to the back of his bakery,
past the ovens and closed the rear door, locking
it behind him as he left for the night unaware of
what was to happen in the hours following.
By the time the fire engine had
arrived all the buildings from Allison's drug store
to Ross's store on the east were ablaze.
Destroyed were the Purdy Block
(stores numbered 174 to 180 on the south side of
Queen St.). Directly east of the Purdy block was
the store of Aaron Ross and Sons and the Western
Bank (Brock's Dept. Store). To the west of the Purdy
block was the Allison Block (Nutty Chocolatier and
Dana's Jewellery). Allison's was a drug store occupying
the area of both present stores.
Shortly after the firefighters
arrived, a loud explosion rocked the Allison building,
no doubt from the chemicals contained in the drug
The firemen directed their attention
to the section of the block which was least affected;
the Western Bank and Ross's. Hundreds of gallons
of water were poured onto the roof of the building
until it finally gave way. The volumes of water
brought the fire to a halt in that location so that
structurally, the main floors were left unharmed
by fire, although water damaged all the stock and
facilities on the main floor. The firemen then gave
their attention to the remainder of the block, moving
By morning it was obvious that
the entire block was virtually destroyed, with the
exception of the brick fronts of the Western Bank
and Ross's store which were largely intact. The
heat had also destroyed a number of plate glass
windows on the opposite side of the street.
Businesses destroyed as a result
of the fire, from east to west were: The Western
Bank; A. Ross and Sons, general merchants; A.J.
Sproule, baker; S.T. Cawker & Sons, butchers; E.H.
Purdy produce merchant and grocer; R. Dawson, barber;
C.H. Allison, druggist.
The following businesses located
in the second floors of these buildings and were
also destroyed: W.H. Harris, barrister; David J.
Adams, land and money broker; S.M. Newton, publisher
(Port Perry Standard); G.A. Powers, tailor; J.A.
Murray, dentist; Miss Harrison, dressmaker; Wm.
Tremeer, dwelling; Misses McKnight and Crooks, dressmakers;
H.B. Clemes and R.G. Baird. Within days of the fire
many of the businesses had relocated in temporary
The week following the 1901 fire,
the editor of the Oshawa Vindicator wrote the following
in his paper:
"Port Perry Council is figuring
on a better fire protection, but what prompts them
to do so we cannot understand, as nine out of 10
of those burnt out there always make big money out
of fires. They pay very low rates, considering the
dead certainty of a sweeping conflagration every
year or two, and, besides, they have no trouble
in placing a half more insurance in every case then
the building or stock of goods is worth."
Henry Parsons, editor of Port
Perry's North Ontario Observer responded immediately
in his next issue (Oct. 31, 1910): "No man in the
country knows better than the writer of the above
scandalous libel that there is not a word of truth
in it...The vileness of this attack on the businessmen
of Port Perry is only equalled by his lying assertions
regarding their conduct, and the sooner the good
people of Oshawa are made cognizant of the fact
that so unscrupulous a defamer has found refuge
within its borders the better so that they may make
immediate steps to have the brute muzzled before
his presence and vile scribbling contaminate the
citizens of that fair and prosperous town. Such
an unprincipled moral assassin should not be allowed
to find a resting place in a civilized community."
The 1901 fire was the last major
fire to deface the stores of downtown Port Perry,
although other potentially dangerous fires fires
in the downtown area ocurred at Courtice and Jeffrey's
Harness Shop, (Genuine Article and Little Harbour
Trading Co.), Hogg & Lytle (the old mill) and the
Carnegies Ford dealership at the rear of Carnegie
Hardware store (Home Hardware), but these were also
contained to small areas and inflicted no serious
damage to adjoining structures.
JUNE 1902 - Carnegie Flouring and Planning Mills
APRIL 1926 - The Port Perry Union School was totally
destroyed by fire. Building was valued at $65,000.
NOV. 1930 - The fine brick home of the Joshua Curts
family at the corner of Scugog St., destroyed by
FEB. 1936 - Fire in downtown Port perry to Carnegie
Hardware. Fire destroyed upper story when roof fell
in. Damage estimate $15,000.
MAY 1951 - Lakeshore Knitting Mill and Morrow Farm
Equipment destroyed by fire. Estimated damage about
OCT. 1951 - The James Goodall Mill (pictured) at
the lakefront was totally destroyed and damaged
a Lake Scugog Lumber building, causing damage to
building and contents at $95,000.
FEB. 1959 - Fire the Master Feeds elevator caused
MAR. 1982 - Fire ravaged the warehouse and offices
of Jerry's Produce causing $1.5 million in damage.
MAY 1998 - Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
and its adjoining hall were completely destroyed
in spectacular morning fire. Damage was estimated
at more than $2 million.
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