On June 13, 1886, most of the fledging city of Vancouver, officially barely two months old, was destroyed by a huge fire. At the time, residents had been clearing the forested areas, and much construction had already begun. The fire started when a sudden wind blew flames from a brush-clearing fire onto dry brush west of the city. The flames quickly picked up, and tore through the Canadian Pacific Railway lands (most of today’s downtown area) and virtually all of the new construction in less than one hour. The fire continued through the Gastown district, and finally slowed when it reached Vancouver’s eastside.
How the fire started
The fire had started when a sudden wind blew flames from a brush-clearing fire onto dry brush west of the city. It is believed the fire destroyed nearly 1,000 buildings. Only a few stone and brick buildings in Gastown, the West End, and Yaletown survived the damage. The Hastings Mill Store is one of the structures that survived, and still stands today.
The fire was so hot that the St. James Anglican Church bell (located at the intersection of Gore and Cordova Street) turned into a molten lump of metal. It is now on display at the Museum of Vancouver. Although most of the town was destroyed in the fire, miraculously, less than 30 people died. The total cost of the damage was estimated to be about 1.3 million dollars, which, in 1896, would be equivalent to about 36 million dollars.
Within four days of the Great Vancouver Fire, people were already rebuilding the city, although a new by-law required all buildings to be made of brick or stone. The city also quickly collected nearly $7,000 from residents to purchase a fire engine. Vancouver's first fire engine swiftly made its way into town on July 30, 1886.
To learn more about Vancouver's 'Great Fire', check this out.