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The Queen’s Birthday Blaze

July 9, 2011

Trial by fire 2.

Victoria Day Excursion

On Victoria Day, 1891, citizens of the lower mainland took advantage of the new convenience of railway access to points south, crossing the border in numbers for the first time on a "holiday weekend."  Even folks from Vancouver could easily commute by rail to New Westminster, cross the river in comfort on the ferry to Liverpool, and then board the New Westminster Southern Railway for a 40 minute ride into Fairhaven, Washington.   More than a thousand persons from Vancouver alone made the excursion. It would be a long full day, with lots to do in Fairhaven, and last party made it back to Vancouver at three in the morning.

South Westminster, the new subdivision at Brownsville opposite New Westminster, was booming with settlers and business.  There were three new Hotels and stables and plank roads a half-mile in length connected directly to the Scott Road and points west, and to Brownsville and points east and south.

At the crossing of the plank roads and close to the ferry landing dock, Robert Crossman had built his Grandview Hotel.  Open only weeks, the hotel was already a success, and on this holiday weekend, the Crossman family had left with other holidaymakers to Fairhaven.

The Crossman’s had not yet returned when the ferry "Surrey"  made its late crossing to the city at shortly after 10 pm. Those on board the ferry had begun to disperse when attention was drawn to a blaze on the south side, near the ferry landing. The Daily News Advertiser report follows:

"The fire signal whistle on the ferry was sounded several times before the brigade, many of whom had just returned home, got together the hose required and that could be spared from the City, on board the steamer. The crew of the ferry had in the meantime made everything ready for action, and were soon at the south landing. The fire was at R Crossman’s new hotel, which was half burned down before the brigade arrived. The blaze lighted up the whole City, and it appeared as if the suburb across the water was doomed.  The firemen ran out about 1,500 feet of hose.  The hotel was then all in flames, and the plank roadway had caught fire. When the water was turned on the latter was extinguished before much damage was done. . .
The prompt action of Captain Grant and the ferry no doubt prevented the total destruction of the buildings in South Westminster.
Chief Ackerman and the firemen found that the pump capacity was quite sufficient for the 1,500 feet of hose used. They succeeded in saving the roadway entire and the outbuildings of the hotel. 
Crossman and his family had been away all day and had not returned when the fire broke out.  Nothing is known of the origin of the fire.
The new townsite is on a flat prairie, which has been drained by deep ditches on each side of the plank road. Sparks from the burning building had ignited the peat in numerous places and it was found necessary to call out the firemen yesterday afternoon, who ran out the hose, and played for two hours on the burning field."

When built the ferry Surrey had been equipped with a fire hose and a pump so powerful it was said to be able to blow the bricks off the facades of buildings on Front Street. A controversial addition at the time,  the water pump would prove its worth again and again.

Ferry steamer Surrey  
Surrey ferry fire-boat  
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