Great Fire of Toronto April 19, 1904 – The City’s Downtown Core in Ruins

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April 20, 1904 - Looking east on Wellington St W, from west of Bay St towards the smouldering ruins of the Great Fire of Toronto
April 20, 1904 – Looking east on Wellington St W, from west of Bay St towards the smouldering ruins of the Great Fire of Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1558, Item 356)

The Great Fire of Toronto 1904 began ‪at 8:04 pm‬ on the windy, icy cold night of ‪April 19th.‬ A night watchman first saw flames coming from the ES Currie Building (makers of neckties) at ‪58 Wellington St‬ W, just west of Bay St, in what used to be the Wholesale District. Today, we know it as the Financial District.

While it’s unknown how the fire began, perhaps faulty wiring or a stove left burning, nearly 100 buildings were destroyed, 5,000 jobs were affected and over $10 million in damages (1904 dollars).

The Inferno Raged On

April 20, 1904 - Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto looking south on Bay St, north of Wellington St W
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto looking south on Bay St, north of Wellington St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 14)

By ‪9 pm‬, every firefighter in the City was on-site with horse-drawn engines and ladders. While the north advance was stopped, strong winds quickly spread the fire to the south and east. Low water pressure, materials in the warehouses (paper products, dry goods) and water freezing due to the bad weather were just a few of the major hindrances. Mayor Urquhart sent telegrams for help, and firefighters from nearby cities like Buffalo, Hamilton, and others arrived quickly.

By ‪11 pm‬, the inferno had reached Front St and was sweeping through The Esplanade West, heading towards Yonge St. By ‪4:30 am‬, the fire was considered under control; however, there were still hotspots flaring up for days. There were no deaths during the blaze, but in the aftermath, there was one. See below for a newsreel video from the Library and Archives Canada about April 19, 1904, in Toronto and the aftermath.

Most businesses had insurance, but some did not. Many companies found temporary spaces to operate and began to rebuild immediately.

New Building By-Laws

The Great Fire of Toronto 1904 revealed the City’s need for safer building codes and a high-pressure water system. Before the fire, the warehouse’s exterior walls were brick and stone, while floors, joists and interior were made of wood. Laws were passed for fire-resistant construction.

Saving the Evening Telegram Building

1904 - The Telegram newspaper building, once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Melinda St, was saved by its employees during The Great Fire of Toronto 1904
1904 – The Telegram newspaper building, once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Melinda St, was saved by its employees during The Great Fire of Toronto 1904 (Toronto Public Library R-1837)

Employees of the Evening Telegram saved their building and prevented the fire from spreading northeast by spraying water from windows and a hydrant on the roof.

The Telegram was on the southeast corner of Bay and Melinda Sts. The building directly south of it was destroyed.

The dedicated employees were rewarded with large bonuses by the newspaper’s owner.

Great Fire of Toronto 1904 Photos

April 20, 1904 - The fire ruins of the Wyld-Darling Building on the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W, in downtown Toronto
April 20, 1904 – The fire ruins of the Wyld-Darling Building on the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W, in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 10)
April 1904 – The Wyld-Darling building was once located at the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W. The photo shows the aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto 1904
April 1904 – The Wyld-Darling building was once located at the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W. The photo shows the aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto 1904 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 402, Item 3)
1891 - The Wyld, Grasett & Darling Building, wholesale dry goods and woollens once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W
1891 – The Wyld, Grasett & Darling Building, wholesale dry goods and woollens once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Wellington St W (Toronto Public Library TSPA_0112929F)
April 20, 1904 - Looking east on Wellington St W, from west of Bay St towards the smouldering ruins of the Great Fire of Toronto
April 20, 1904 – Looking east on Wellington St W, from west of Bay St towards the smouldering ruins of the Great Fire of Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1558, Item 356)
April 20, 1904 - Looking south from Melinda St towards the aftermath of the fire on Bay St
April 20, 1904 – Looking south from Melinda St towards the aftermath of the fire on Bay St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 7)
April 19 and 20, 1904 - Map showing the area of the fire in the Wholesale District in downtown Toronto
April 19 and 20, 1904 – Map showing the area of the fire in the Wholesale District in downtown Toronto (Toronto Public Library T-1904-SMALL)
April 20, 1904 – Fire ruins in Great Fire of Toronto at the northwest corner of Bay St and Wellington St W
April 20, 1904 – Fire ruins in Great Fire of Toronto at the northwest corner of Bay St and Wellington St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 14)
April 1904 – The ruins of G. Goulding & Sons building, once located at 55-59 Bay St. The photo shows the aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto 1904
April 1904 – The ruins of G. Goulding & Sons building, once located at 55-59 Bay St. The photo shows the aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto 1904 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 2)
April 20, 1904 - Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto on the north side of Front St W
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto on the north side of Front St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 01)
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto Fire album cover
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto Fire album cover (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 20)
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto on Front St W west of Bay St
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto on Front St W west of Bay St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 4)
April 1904 - Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto, looking south from north of Wellington St W towards the east side of Bay St
April 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto, looking south from north of Wellington St W towards the east side of Bay St (Toronto Public Library R-1850)
April 20, 1904 - Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto looking south on Bay St, north of Wellington St W
April 20, 1904 – Aftermath of the Great Fire of Toronto looking south on Bay St, north of Wellington St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 14)
1906 - Curio seekers at fire ruins
1906 – Curio seekers at fire ruins (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 6a)
1902 - Looking north up Bay St from north of Front St W towards the Old City Hall
1902 – Looking north up Bay St from north of Front St W towards the Old City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1587, Series 409, Item 61)
April 20, 1904 - Great Fire of Toronto ruins looking north up Bay St, towards the Old City Hall
April 20, 1904 – Great Fire of Toronto ruins looking north up Bay St, towards the Old City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2)
2020 - Looking north towards Old City Hall up Bay St, from south of Wellington St W in downtown Toronto
2020 – Looking north towards Old City Hall up Bay St, from south of Wellington St W in downtown Toronto
April 1904 – Looking west along Front St W from Yonge St with the Bank of Montreal in the right foreground, the Hockey Hall of Fame now occupies the bank. The Great Fire of Toronto ruins are visible
April 1904 – Looking west along Front St W from Yonge St with the Bank of Montreal in the right foreground, the Hockey Hall of Fame now occupies the bank. The Great Fire of Toronto ruins are visible (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 7561)
December 25, 2023 – Looking west along Front St W from east of Yonge St. The Hockey Hall of Fame, originally home to the Bank of Montreal, is in the right foreground, and the Dominion Public Building is on the left
December 25, 2023 – Looking west along Front St W from east of Yonge St. The Hockey Hall of Fame, originally home to the Bank of Montreal, is in the right foreground, and the Dominion Public Building is on the left
1904 - The Telegram newspaper building, once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Melinda St, was saved by its employees during The Great Fire of Toronto 1904
1904 – The Telegram newspaper building, once at the southeast corner of Bay St and Melinda St, was saved by its employees during The Great Fire of Toronto 1904 (Toronto Public Library R-1837)

The Great Fire of Toronto 1904 Video

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