The 1911 CPR grain elevator fire in Owen Sound harbour would have a profound impact on that Georgian Bay community.
Georgian Bay ports with grain elevators are busy places each autumn. At that time of year ships are racing to beat the winter freeze-up of the Great Lakes. Their object is to get as much of the grain out of the elevators at Thunder Bay on Lake Superior as possible and deliver it to southern markets for distribution throughout North America and abroad.
The harvest of the wheat fields of the Canadian West has continually played an integral part in the Canadian economy. Therefore, it has always been of paramount importance that as much grain as possible be shipped out of Thunder Bay to southern ports before ice and winter storms make navigation an impossibility.
In the 1880s Owen Sound was a vital link in the trans-shipment of the Canadian grain crop. The elevators in Owen Sound harbour were a focal point of this activity. In the 1880s Owen Sound was the eastern terminus for the C.P.R.'s Great Lakes fleet. In order to facilitate the grain which passed through this port it was necessary that two large elevators be built.
The first of these wooden elevators was erected in 1885. It was the first of the large elevators which became common sites in most Great Lakes ports. Each year hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain were unloaded at the elevators in Owen Sound. The grain was then trans-shipped by railroad to Toronto and other southern ports.
On Dec. 11, 1911 a dramatic event occurred in Owen Sound's busy harbour. On that date the community was a hive of activity. Several ships had arrived with their cargos. Workers were busy loading rail cars to enable the elevators to receive more grain as the ships were racing between the lake head and this port to beat the winter freeze-up. A provincial election had been held that day. The downtown streets were crowded waiting for the election results. Suddenly an eerie glow filled the sky over the harbour.
Panic and fear must have raced through the minds of the citizens as they sped en masse to the docks. Major fires had not been an uncommon event in the previous two decades in the community. In an era of rapid growth and industrialization, the existence of wooden buildings and inadequate fire safety and prevention, had created a situation which had led to disasters, the worst of which had been the destruction of the North American Bent Chair Company.
When they arrived at the harbour their worst fears were confirmed. The elevators laden with grain, were ablaze! The celebration of A.G. MacKay's record majority victory in the provincial election now seemed irrelevant as everyone pitched in to and stop the fiery inferno. Quickly, it was realized by the firemen and the citizens alike that the combination of the wooden structures and its contents was lethal in terms of the total destruction of the CPR grain elevators.
Containment of the blaze became the only solution with the hope that the flames could be kept from reaching the ships which were moored nearby and the other buildings in the area. Two vessels in the C.P.R. fleet, the “Keewatin” and “Athabasca”, were moored near the elevators.
Fortunately, the “Keewatin” had her steam up and Captain McPhee quickly moved his vessel out of danger.
However, the “Athabasca” did not have any steam to power the ship from peril. Facing the danger of the ship burning, the crowd seized the hawsers and dragged the “Athabasca” further along the wharf and, hopefully out of danger from the CPR grain elevator fire.
While the volunteers worked to move vessels and protect surrounding structures the firemen tried to contain the fire. Several of them narrowly escaped death when a hundred square foot wall collapsed under the strain of the weight of thousands of bushels of wheat. It crashed to the ground mere inches from the fire fighters who were pouring water onto the flames.
In the end the CPR grain elevator fire destroyed the entire structure. Rather than rebuild, the C.P.R. moved its fleet the next year, 1912, to Port McNichol, which was also closer to the new rail line which had been built to connect Sudbury with Toronto, Although the loss of the C.P.R. fleet was a serious blow to Owen Sound's economy, the port continued as a valuable link in the Great Lakes transportation system.
12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.
In the 1920s, Owen Sound got New Elevators. After losing the CPR elevators to fire, the community fought hard to get new elevators for their harbour and improve the community's economy.
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The 1944-1945 Grey North By-Election would surprise Prime Minister King and all of Canada as the Grey North electorate refused to be dictated to by Ottawas political elites.
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1960s: Owen Sound's Education Expansion: 1960s Owen Sound was a period of growth and one result of this was a need for the expansion of education services for the growing population.
1960s Owen Sound marked a period of change and new growth to the commercial and industrial life that would impact the citizens of Owen Sound and change the patterns of doing business.
The Bible was the Law in the 1840s in this region because the region was unrepresented by the government peace and justice were community responsibilities.
Blazes! Fires were a problem in the early years in the Owen Sound area, buildings were often made of wood and firefighting equipment water sources were inadequate were.
Brooke: A brief history of an important, yet distinctly different, community that became a key element in Owen Sound's development as a important Georgian Bay port city.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
The cost of living in 1900 in Owen Sound may seem great, but when you take into consideration other factors, things were perhaps not all that wonderful.
The CPR Grain Elevator Fire of 1911 spelled the end of Owen Sound's role as the eastern terminus of the CPR Great Lakes Fleet.
Black History: Emancipation Day celebrates the abolition of slavery and it continues to be an annual celebration in many locations that were in some way, or another touched by the impact of slavery.
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A Curvy Route to Toronto provided a rail connection between Owen Sound and Toronto, the curvy part was thrilling, but beautiful for the passengers and strenuous for the crew.
Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Harrison - A Tough Owen Sound Pioneer whose grit and determination created a prosperous life for himself and his family in a new community.
William Harrison, The Source of John Harrison's Grit: details the influence of John's father, William Harrison, on John and his siblings.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
Amalgamation In and Around Owen Sound is not an unusual happening. Some form of boundary changes have occurred at many different times over the years.
Canada' First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.
DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.
Jimmy Grant was a high wire walker who was a fearless athlete who faced all challenges without a worry of the possible fatal consequences of his daredevil actions.
Newspapers hold a special place in the history of any community, and the Owen Sound Sun Times, and its predecessors, beginning with the Comet, are no exception.
Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.
Owen Sound's centennial celebrations in 1957 brought the community together for events such big name entertainers, sports competitions, street dances and much more in honour of the community's past and projecting the city's bright future.
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First Cars in Owen Sound could be purchased for less than $500.00!
The harbour history of Owen Sound is rich with detail of businesses which were located at various wharves.
Owen Sound's lacrosse tradition is steeped with great teams and players who deserve more attention than history has given it.
The Owen Sound Library has been the focal point of life in the Owen Sound region for many decades, as a treasure trove of entertaining and educational materials.
Owen Sound's Police Force - The Big Four were legendary in their maintaining the peace efforts in a rowdy Great Lakes port in the early 1900s.
Hillcrest School Memories a look back at my public school days when Owen Sound's Hillcrest Public School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998.
News of War: The 1940s was supposed to provide the world with a respite after the hardship of the 1930s depression. However World War Two brought more adversity.
Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
Owen Sound's First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.
Owen Sound's First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.
Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound's 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.
Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.
Owen Sound Entrepreneurs: S.J. Parker & Richard Notter used their wealth and their friendships to built many community-oriented businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Owen Sound 1920 Stories provide an interesting look at the community as it was about to become a city.
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O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.
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U.S. President Taft Visited Owen Sound Ontario, a Georgian Bay port in a momentous winter of events in 1920 as Owen Sound celebrated its incorporation as a city.
Ship arrivals meant full shelves in stores and larders as pioneers and shopkeepers eagerly awaited goods to fill their depleted necessities
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Sunday Work Laws in the 19th Century in Owen Sound and Grey County region were very strict, with no exceptions allowed.
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A pioneer home was very utilitarian. It served the pioneer family's essential needs, while the work of clearing the land and planting crops took priority.
Pioneer justice might be described as ruthless. But the question remains, did they always get the right man?
CPR Grain Elevator Fire in 1911 in Owen Sound harbour would have a profound impact on that Georgian Bay community.
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An Owen Sound pioneer, A.M. Stephens provided us with a story about his early years helping to carve out a community in this part of Georgian Bay.
Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy's efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound's harbour.
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The summer of 1844 was definitely not a picnic for the early settlers in the Georgian Bay region around pioneer settlement that would become Owen Sound.
Golf Course Review: Stone Tree Golfing at the Stone Tree Golf Club, a golfer can also enjoy sighting American Goldfinches, Purple Martins and the majestic Blue Heron while they pursue their quest to improve their golf game!
Owen Sound Ontario: A Unique Perspective: Book provides a unique and humorous perspective about this Georgian Bay port and hockey hotbed.
Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.
Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.