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
By 9 pm, every fireman in the City was on-site with horse-drawn engines and ladders. While the north advance was stopped, strong winds were spreading the fire quickly 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 other cities 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 fire however 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 businesses did find temporary spaces to operate and began to rebuild right away.
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. Prior to the fire, the warehouse’s exterior walls were made of brick and stone while floors, joists and interior were made of wood. Laws were passed for fire-resistant construction.
Saving the Evening Telegram Building
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.