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The Fire At St. John, New Brunswick (Photograph of the Customs House after the fire.)

Illustrated London News, July 28, 1877.

st. john fire scene

The destruction by fire on the 29th ult. of the best part of the town of St. John, the capital of New Brunswick, has been, during several weeks past, a theme of regretful comment. A view of the city and harbour appeared in our Journal three weeks ago. We have received from a colonial correspondent, Mr. Forshaw Day, of Halifax, sketches of the ruins in Market-square and King-street, and those of the Victoria Hotel and several public buildings. The detailed accounts of this conflagration have borne out the first estimate of the magnitude of the disaster. The public buildings destroyed are more than five and twenty, including the Post Office, the City Building, the Custom House, and four banks. Hardly any of the business premises have been saved. The offices, plant, and stock of six newspapers have been swept away. Private houses have not suffered to so large an extent as public buildings; but it is calculated that nearly half the ordinary dwellings have been burnt down, and half the population of the town has been rendered homeless. The fire broke out at half-past two in the afternoon of that Wednesday, and raged uninterruptedly throughout that afternoon and night, and was not finally mastered till the evening of Thursday. We read exciting accounts of the rapidity with which the flames spread; how, sweeping from street to street, they fastened on one of the wharves, which they enveloped in a few moments; then caught the masts of ship after ship lying alongside, till they formed a bridge of fire over an arm of the water; how they sped along rows of wooden houses and overthrew them "as if felled by a hurricane;" how the sparks lodged in the steeples of the churches, which burnt downwards from the top without possibility of aid; how the fire occasionally caught the two sides of a street simultaneously, and then a fearful race was run between the competing flames, until both sides of the street were destroyed. And we can imagine how, as the flames after the fire spread, the frightened people poured in ever increasing numbers out into the streets: bedding, chairs, tables, and furniture of all kinds were dragged from the burning houses and piled in the squares and open spaces; merchants were rushing to save their books at any rate, if their stores were past saving; bankers were endeavouring to rescue from the vaults and strong rooms of their doomed banks their boxes of specie and bundles of notes and bonds; while the saddest sight of all was found in the numbers of sick, aged, and inform, who were hurried hither and thither by their anxious friends in the doubtful hope of finding a place of safety for them. It is difficult to imagine anything more terrible than the spectacle must have been during the night, with nearly half the population homeless and panic-stricken in the streets, and the fire still advancing and threatening to destroy the whole of the town. Happily, but few lives were lost; twenty seems to be the outside. But the loss of property was immense: it is estimated at 15,000,000 dols., of which hardly more than 5,000,000 dols. Is covered by the various insurances. Many other cities of the Canadian Dominion, and of the United States, have raised large subscriptions for the relief of the destitute families. The London Mansion House Fund, for this benevolent object, amounts to 6250.

st. john city map

Our small Engraving is a plan of the southern parts of the city; and the portion destroyed by the fire is shown by a dark shading. The fire began at the north-west corner (upper left-hand corner of the Engraving) at York Point Slip, close to Mill-street. It spread over the wharves in that quarter, to the Market Slip, where it consumed much shipping, and the masts of the vessels carried the fire across the water to buildings on the south side. Water-street, market-square, King-street, and Prince William-street were thus attacked, and were presently filled with devouring flames. A violent west wind drove the conflagration quite across that part of the city. In traversing Duke-street, past the Victoria Hotel, and in sweeping over Germain-street and Charlotte-street it destroyed a vast amount of property. The conflagration finally stopped on the shore of Courtenay Bay. The following are amongst the public buildings burnt:-Post Office, Bank of New Brunswick, City Building, Custom House, Maritime Bank Building, in which are this bank and that of Montreal and Nova Scotia, School Trustees' office; Bank of Nova Scotia, new building; Academy of Music in which was the Knights of Pythias' Hall; Victoria Hotel, Oddfellows' Hall, No. 1 Engine House; Orange hall, King-street; Temperance Hall, King-street East; Dramatic Lyceum, Victoria School-House, Temple of Honour Hall, Barnes's Hotel, Royal Hotel, St. John Hotel, Acadia Hotel, New Brunswick House, Bay-View Hotel, International Hotel, Wiggins's Orphan Asylum, and the Deaf and Dumb Institution. The churches burnt are Trinity, St. Andrew's, Methodist, on Germain-street; Baptist church, Germain-street; Christian church, Duke-street; St. James's Church, Leinster-street; Baptist church, the centenary church, St. Philip's, Carmarthen-street Mission Methodist church, Pitt-street Mission church, St. David's Church, Reformed Presbyterian church, and Sheffield-street Mission House.

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