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Hull was wracked by several major fires in the 1870s and 1880s. The worst by far, however, was the “Great Fire” of 1900. The following description of that devastating event, printed in the book, Hull 1800-1875, is by an actual eyewitness:

“It was the 26th day of April in the closing year of the 19th century. Because of an early spring, the snow had already melted and the trees were quickly turning green again. Around 10 o’clock in the morning, the alarm warned of a fire in ward No. 2. The roof of a small house facing Minnow Lake had caught fire as a result of a defective chimney. The firemen, under the direction of Chief Benoit, hurried to the scene, but the flames, fanned by a sharp wind, had already ignited an adjoining house and a barn. The firemen tried determinedly to put out the blaze, but to no avail. A bridge in Hull, after the Great Fire. (Photo - Hull 1800-1875)Twelve hours later, half of Hull and 20 per cent of Ottawa were reduced to ashes. In that very short space of time, properties worth several millions of dollars were razed to the ground, seven persons died, and fifteen thousand more were left homeless and without food and clothing.It should be stressed that from the very beginning, Chief Benoit and his men did their utmost to get the fire under control, but the wind, the composition of the buildings, etc., everything conspired to turn a simple blaze into an incredible holocaust. The fire broke out around 10 o’clock, and by noon, the flames had already consumed all the dwellings on Chaudière, Wright, Church, Du Pont, Principale, Wellington, and Duke Streets. The Post Office, the Imperial Hotel, the Anglican church, and some fifteen stores had been gutted by the fire. By one o’clock in the afternoon, it was obvious that a good part of the city was going to be levelled, and though a little late, it was decided to seek the help of the Eddy and Chaudière mills fire brigades. A few minutes later, the “Eddy” and “Conqueror” steam-pumps were put into operation to save what was left of our city. Unfortunately, the blaze covered such a wide area and the wind was so strong that the water proved worthless against the flames. Carried by the wind, tongues of flames were tumbling down on the buildings, which were turned into blazing masses. The fire soon reached the Eddy Mills and the “Hull Lumber Company’s” lumber piles.

It is impossible to describe the grim spectacle that presented itself in the city of Hull on that day, but those that witnessed it have every detail etched for ever in their memory. Up until noon, all the available men had been helping the firemen, but realizing that nothing could be done to save the city, those unfortunate men had to save themselves, their families and whatever household effects they could carry. With the unrelenting flames gaining ground rapidly, the men and the women, pulling their children, started running away, without knowing where to head for to escape from danger. When night came, there were hundreds of people camping on the banks of Minnow and Flora lakes.The devastated city. (Photo - Hull 1800-1875)At one o’clock in the afternoon, a shower of sparks, carried by the wind, leaped across the river and ignited the lumber piles and stables of the J. R. Booth company, located in the Victoria ward of Ottawa. Almost the whole ward was destroyed, and property damage was greater than in Hull, owing to the higher value of the buildings. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a steam pump and a fire company arrived from Montreal on a special train. At the same time, the voluntary militia was mobilized to help the firemen fight the conflagration. Around 8 o’clock that evening, the wind died away, and the fire burnt itself out gradually, but the debris kept smoking for several days.

The thousands of stricken families found themselves in a difficult situation on the day following April 26, but relief was dispensed to the needy just as quickly as the destruction had taken place. Notre-Dame Church and the Matthews Buildings, the only two major buildings that had been spared, provided temporary lodging for the homeless. The next day, the Militia Department distributed a large number of canvas tents, and from thousands of other sources, there was continuous flow of money, clothing and food. A Relief Committee was formed by the leading citizens of Hull and Ottawa, and a worldwide relief fund was set up to help the victims get back on their feet. The response was immediate. In less than a month, a quarter of a million dollars was allocated among the victims of the fire. In total, they received from the Relief Committee, during the summer of 1900, an amount of $956,962.77, with Hull receiving approximately one third of it. During the summer following the conflagration, 317 private homes were rebuilt in Hull, as well as 94 stores of all kinds, a large part of the Eddy mills, a carding mill, two planning mills, one Anglican church, the Court House, the post office, the Ottawa and Provincial Banks buildings, the registry office, Notre-Dame College, one English school, two convents, and five hotels.”

Léo Rossignol et al., Hull 1800-1875, [1975].