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1800s - The Great Fire of 1886

Calgary's first major fire roared to life on Sunday, Nov. 7, 1886 on what is now the area of Ninth Ave. and Centre Street, leaving a plume of smoke and devastation in its path.

Flames were spotted in the early morning hours at the rear wall of the Parish and Son flour and feed store. The youthful Calgary Fire Department volunteers sprang into action after being alerted by pealing church bells, which awakened the entire community.

Despite valiant efforts to tear down nearby buildings and mount a fireguard, the wood-fuelled inferno swept unchecked through the streets, fanned by a strong southwest wind. Hotels, barns, saloons and warehouses burned to the ground. When the smoke cleared by noon, piles of rubble and personal possessions dotted the street. Nobody was killed or injured, but 14 buildings were razed and losses estimated at an astounding $103,200.

In the inferno's aftermath, the mayor of the newly incorporated City hinted darkly at vigilantism: "If you find any man setting fire to any building," Calgary Mayor George King told a cheering crowd, "I hand him over to you and you may deal with him as you like."

No arrests were ever reported.

The Calgary Fire Department in the late 1800's

Calgary Fire Department-horses
Calgary's first fire hall
1800s the early years