In many ways, Ottawa is a city forged by fire. Over the years, landmarks, neighbourhoods, and even Parliament itself have been destroyed, only to be restored or reborn in new ways.
As we explore the visual past of the capital to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we look back at the fires and other disasters that have struck Ottawa; tearing at its fabric, testing the resolve of its citizens and ultimately, yielding a changed city from the ashes.
The Great Fire of 1900
(R.J. Robillard/Library and Archives Canada/PA-135413)
Colossal clouds of smoke sweep across the Ottawa River from Hull during the Great Fire of 1900.
The fire started in the chimney of a home at 101 Chaudière in Hull on April 26.
Whipped by high winds, the flames soon spread to neighbouring homes, lumber yards by the river and then, because of flying embers, to buildings across the river in Ottawa.
(Library and Archives Canada/PA-120334)
The Great Fire of 1900 left 40 per cent of the people in Hull and 14 per cent in Ottawa homeless. Much of Ottawa’s west end, including LeBreton Flats, was destroyed. Six people lost their lives in the blaze.
More perished in the aftermath, including those who succumbed to disease in the tent cities where the homeless were forced to find refuge.
(Library and Archives Canada/PA-023236)
Warnings that the amount and density of wooden material and buildings in the area were a disaster waiting to happen had been ignored for years.
Deadly train wreck 1913
(Library and Archives Canada/PA-025116)
Crowds of curious residents survey the damage following the deadliest train wreck in Ottawa’s history.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on June 25, 1913, a 10-car passenger train travelling from Montreal to Winnipeg derailed just west of Ottawa near Westboro, sending two coaches tumbling down an embankment into the Ottawa River.
Many of those on board were Scottish and Irish immigrants who had arrived in Canada only hours earlier.
(Library and Archives Canada/PA-025114)
Eight people, including two children, all newly-arrived immigrants, died in the derailment. At least 50 more were injured.
Newspaper reports at the time said the cause was a loose rail.
While many residents showed up to watch the spectacle, others helped search for and comfort survivors, and opened their homes to stranded families.
Parliament Hill fire 1916
(Library and Archives Canada/RD-000240)
Flames tear through the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings on the bitterly cold night of Feb. 3, 1916. Seven people died as a result of the fire which destroyed virtually the entire building.
A quick-thinking employee shut the iron doors of the Parliamentary Library, saving it and thousands of irreplaceable books inside.
(John Boyd/Library and Archives Canada)
Theories abound as to the cause of the Centre Block fire, but to this day it remains a mystery. An official inquiry failed to determine whether the blaze was sparked by arson, a careless smoker or perhaps faulty wiring.
Fighter jet crashes into convent 1956
(City of Ottawa Archives/CA024615)
On May 15, 1956, a CF-100 jet fighter returning to RCAF station Uplands crashed into the Villa St. Louis convent of the Grey Nuns of the Cross in Orléans.
Fifteen people were killed in the massive explosion and fire: Eleven nuns, a priest, a cook and the two men aboard the plane.
The cause of the crash has never been determined.
A nursing home now occupies the new building that went up on the site in 1965.
ByWard Market Fire 1957
(City of Ottawa Archives/MG393-NP-47575-003)
The charred, icy ruins of the ByWard Market smoulder following a massive fire on Jan. 2, 1957 that raged through Murray Street, Parent Avenue and Clarence Street.
More than 300 firefighters were enlisted to battle the blaze as flames rose nearly 50 metres into the air.
(City of Ottawa Archives/CA024600)
The fire destroyed an entire city block. More than 150 people were left homeless as a result.
It’s thought the fire started in the book unit of the Public Printing and Stationery building on Clarence Street. (City of Ottawa Archives/CA024600)
Slater St. explosion 1958
Devastation and tonnes of debris reveal the power of an enormous explosion that tore apart the Addressograph-Multigraph building at 248 Slater St. near Bank Street, as well as adjacent businesses.
The blast happened around 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25, 1958. Natural gas had seeped into the building and when a janitor turned on a light switch, the gas ignited.
He died several days later from his injuries. Flying glass injured 40 people. More than 25 businesses were forced to close indefinitely.
Heron Road Bridge collapse 1966
(City of Ottawa Archives/CA025274)
Workers desperately dig through the rubble left by the collapse of the Heron Road Bridge.
Shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, 1966, the southern span of the partially completed bridge suddenly gave way, crashing into the Rideau River below.
Nine workers died. 55 were injured.
(Bill Olson, Dominion-Wide Photographs Limited/City of Ottawa Archives/CA021689)
An inquiry into the collapse determined inadequate bridge supports gave way as concrete was being poured.
As a result, Ontario made several changes to the rules governing workplace safety.
In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the disaster, the structure was renamed The Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge.
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