Sunday, March 1, 2009

Historic Fires

As with any town, Annapolis Royal has had its share of fires. Because of the age of our community, its former role as the capital of Acadie and Nova Scotia, and a large amount of wood construction, we have possibly had more than our share of fires. In fact, we can go as far back as the 1613 British attack on the Port Royal habitation to find the first records of buildings being destroyed by fire in this area. This attack was led by Sir Samuel Argall and a group of settlers from the Virginia Company who were attempting to remove the French from North America. 1613 was a busy year for Argall as this is the same year that he famously kidnapped Pocahontas the daughter of Chief Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh) of the Powhatan tribe. Moving forward in time, the battles for control of Acadie between Sieur d'Aulnay and Charles LaTour in the 1640s saw fires in the town. The ongoing battles between the French and British leading up to 1710 also saw many buildings burned. Once again in the 1740s, with the community now controlled by the British, hostilities flared and buildings were burned.

Our first recorded case of arson took place in 1737 when ten or eleven year old Isaac Provender, the indentured servant of Lt. Amherst, burned the house of his master. Although this was a capital crime, it was never tried because of the age of the accused and unclear jurisdiction in these matters.

From 1877 to 1888 there were four fires which destroyed sections of Annapolis Royal. The worst of these were in 1880 when 18 buildings were burned across from Fort Anne and in 1888 when the buildings on Church Street were destroyed.

1920 and 1921 were difficult years in Annapolis Royal. A fire which consumed five buildings on the water side of Lower St George Street started on March 16, 1920. The next year Annapolis Royal experience its Great Fire. The 1921 fire, like the one in 1737, was an act of arson by a young boy. A stable hand at the Queen Hotel decided to start a fire to see how long it would take to have it put out. Apparently he enjoyed watching the firefighters. By the time it was out, 21 buildings in the center of town were destroyed. Dynamite was even brought in to create spaces between buildings. Twelve year old Tommy Miller was eventually arrested and charged with arson.

Today, we have the services of the Annapolis Royal Volunteer Fire Department. These hard working and dedicated volunteers potentially risk their lives every time the fire siren calls them to duty. Considering our community's history of fires, we should always be thankful for these services.

All for now,
RGS

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