The following is a partial list of major fires that occurred in Fort William and Port Arthur.
- August 7, 1945: The Fire Departments had to provide their services for the grain elevators often, and in 1945 two of them caught fire within the same week. The first of the two, the Northwestern Elevator, accounted for around $60,000 in damages, making it the biggest fire loss of the year. The second fire was caused by an explosion at the Saskatchewan Pool Elevator No. 5 in Port Arthur, and both Fire Departments worked together to extinguish it.
The Pool 5 Elevator explosion was a landmark event in the Port Arthur Fire Department’s service to the City. The Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council concluded a week following the event that the Department’s firefighting equipment had been inadequate to deal with the scope of the fire. On a more positive note, however, officials at the Elevator officially thanked the Fire Department and sent a contribution of $200 for their services.
Five months later, on January 7, 1946, firemen Walter Pascoe and Roy McLennan were awarded the King’s Police and Fire Service Medals for their exceptional service at the Pool 5 Elevator. Pascoe had been a member of the Fire Department for 18 years, and McLennan had been for a year and a half. Both men had performed brave acts, risking their own lives, to deserve the honour.
McLennan, upon learning that five men were trapped in the No. 3 annex, climbed an unstable 65-foot ladder (mounted on the conveyor shed’s roof, putting McLennan 110 feet above the ground) to deliver a safety rope to the trapped men so that they could escape. The ladder was unstable and required a support pole for use at full extension, but the circumstances, of course, did not allow for this. Pascoe shuffled across an unsecured rope for 35 feet between a storage tank and the workhouse while being 110 feet off the ground. Upon arrival in the workhouse, he administered first aid to those who were injured and was able to remove the workers. The building remained on fire, but flaming debris just feet from him did not deter his efforts. He instead climbed one flat above where he had just rescued the men, and rescued another man who was trapped beneath grain. In total, Pascoe saved five lives.
- On April 27, 1951, in Port Arthur, the largest fire of the year occurred at North Star Oil Co., on May Street. Damages of $45,000 accounted for over half the year's losses due to fire for the whole city.
- In March of 1952, a fire at the Planning Mill at the Northern Wood Preservers in Port Arthur caused roughly $100,000 in damages.
- In 1955, there were two fires at Abitibi Power and Paper Co. in Fort William. The first was on July 30, with losses of $20,000, and the second was just over a week later on August 7, with losses of $3000.
- The largest fire of 1956 took place on April 22 at the Victoria Hotel. The cause of the fire was two guests at the hotel, who set fire to a garbage bin while intoxicated. The most expensive fire of the year for Fort William, the losses totalled $22,150 in damages.
- On October 9, 1959, an explosion at the Manitoba Pool Elevator No. 6 in Port Arthur proved to be an expensive loss, valued at approximately $250,000.
- On January 5, 1960, the building containing Tees and Persee Co. Ltd. and Fitzsimmons Fruit Company in Fort William proved to be another exceptionally destructive fire, costing $161,920.92 in fire damages. The Port Arthur Fire Department assisted in fighting this fire, sending their aerial truck to help because Fort William’s was experiencing mechanical problems.
- On November 9, 1964, a fire in Port Arthur at Playtime Bowling Lanes accounted for an estimated $270,000 loss. According to the Fire Department Annual Reports, this was an establishment that was poorly constructed in regards to fire safety. There were no windows on three sides of the building, and the only door access was at the front and back of the building, which made entry incredibly difficult. One firefighter was hospitalized due to smoke inhalation.
For more information on this subject, or any other subject of interest, please visit or contact the City of Thunder Bay Archives.