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Fires on Wellington!

posted by: The Royal Hotel Chilliwack on: September 18, 2019 10:37:34 AM

March, 1930 fire on Wellington Avenue

Major fires have devastated Chilliwack’s downtown - in 1898, 1906 and again in 1930.  

In each case many wood-framed commercial buildings on Wellington Avenue were destroyed as these fires spread from structure to structure; razing everything in its path.

Chilliwack Progress, March 20, 1930

In 1926 Robert Skelton opened his men’s wear business at 45957 Wellington Avenue in downtown Chilliwack. Fire destroyed the building in the March 1930 inferno that ripped through the commercial district, turning a large portion of the downtown core into a pile of ash. The building was quickly re-constructed on the same site; complete with multi-coloured mosaic tiles on the front and entranceway of the building. They still adorn the storefront.

Fire Sale at Skeltons
Chilliwack Progress, May 1, 1930

When European settlers started arriving in Chilliwack more than a century ago they used wood to build their houses, barns and buildings. The abundance of trees dotting the local landscape offered a ready to mill building material that was widely available, lightweight and easy to work with.

The downside with timber construction has always been its poor fire performance.  Along with the lack of adequate or non-existent fire protection in newly settled communities, many timber homes and buildings – and even complete cities - have suffered disastrous losses from fires. Virtually the entire city of Vancouver’s 1000 wood-framed buildings burnt in less than an hour in 1886 leaving thousands homeless.

Chilliwack's first fire hall on Main Street

The first fire hall was located on Main Street, directly behind the Royal Hotel (where the parking lot is situated). With their initial budget of $1300 they were able to purchase two hose reels, a hand-pulled hook and ladder truck, coats, boots, hats and an alarm system. The start-up funds also covered the cost of purchasing the Main Street lot for the fire house. But before the formation of the fire department in 1906, the bells at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church were rung to alert residents of a fire.

Original fire equipment - in a 1970's parade

The City of Chilliwack passed a Fire Protection Bylaw in 1909 prohibiting the use of wood in any new commercial buildings downtown. In its place stone, concrete or brick were the materials that were to be utilized in any new buildings.

Testing water water pressure at the Royal Hotel
Chilliwack Progress, June 30, 1909

Next time you walk down Wellington Avenue, notice the mix of ages of buildings that reflect the fires and the subsequent re-building that occurred in our downtown core
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