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Waterfront Blazes At South Westminster And White Rock Made Spectacular Summer Shows

August 27, 2016

On August 27, 1935, two landmark buildings, the Grandview Hotel barn at South Westminster and the Legion Hall at the Pier in White Rock, were destroyed in spectacular waterfront blazes that attracted hundreds of spectators. No loss of life occurred, although loss of property, especially at the south beach, was considerable.

Grandview Hotel Landmark Barn Burned Down in Late Evening Spectacle

Grandview Hotel barn fire mapThe old barn near the former “Surrey” ferry landing, was an associate structure to the Grandview Hotel. According to all news reports the Hotel was the original location of John Wise’s Clarington Hotel, built around the turn of the century. Wise relocated to the south end of the Fraser River Bridge when it opened in 1904.

The South Westminster hotel was taken over by James and Ada Evans, who were operating it as a rooming and boarding establishment.

The two-storey barn was built to accommodate “six horses and wagons, as regulated at the time of its erection for a recognized hostelry.”

At the time of the fire there were three cars in the barn, all destroyed, together with a winter’s supply of cordwood.

The barn was 75 feet from the Hotel, nearer to the old landing, and about 75 feet across the road from the Leckie Tannery.

Alerted by a watchman about 9:00 in the evening, a crew of volunteers from the Tannery fought the blaze with the company’s own apparatus. The old ferry Surrey would have made short work of the fire, but it was retired long ago.

The barn was a total loss, but the Hotel and Tannery were saved from catching fire.

Described as a “spectacular blaze,” the fire “drew hundreds to the north bank of the Fraser River” to watch.

The Evans lived at South Westminster about 40 years. James Evans was from Simcoe County, Ontario and “a veteran of the Riel Rebellion.” A widower, he married South Africa-born Ada Louse Woodeau in 1901. James Evans of Tannery Road, South Westminster died in May 1944 and Mrs Evans followed in September.

The fires at South Westminster and White Rock were reported together, but the latter was more devastating and took up more space in the papers the next day.

White Rock Legion Hall Destroyed By Fire

The White Rock Legion Hall stood at the shore end of the White Rock Pier, until it went up in flames on August 27, 1935.

Members of swimming club had just wrapped up their awards banquet and had all departed when fire broke out in the kitchen of the adjacent pavilion, on the seaward side of the main building.

The Hall and refreshment pavilion were leased for the summer trade by HJ Thorson of Vancouver. He was relaxing in a chair, looking over the pier to the west and listening to his radio, when he heard a crwhite rock legion hall & pavilion on pierackling sound from inside.

Bystanders from the pier and the beach quickly got up a bucket brigade to fight the flames. Willing hands rushed into the pavilion and Legion Hall to rescue supplies and equipment. A piano and other furniture was carried out, chairs as well, although “in their enthusiasm, they smashed quite a few.”

“Meantime the volunteer fire brigade had been called out.

There was not enough hose to reach from the nearest hydrant to the hall.

The engine was run out on the wharf and its chemical tanks emptied, but the supply was insufficient to quench a blaze of that magnitude.

Then a small boat was hauled out on the road and used as an emergency tank.

Water was brought to it from a hydrant in the fire hose.

Then the fire engine coupled up its chemical hose and pumped from the tank.

The stream was only the size of that yielded by an ordinary garden hose and was futile.”

Thorson’s refreshment stand was now history and the Hall in dire peril as the fire rushed from seaward to shoreside with the Hall standing defenseless between.

“About this time the heat played tricks with an electric sign on the outside of the hall building with the result that hundreds of spectators lining the roadway and the railway tracks saw the sign ‘Dance’ winking in and out steadily for the next half hour.”

By the time the Blaine, Washington fire department arrived on the scene with its pumper, there was not much left but the chimney and smoldering ruins.

The Legion buildings stood about 6 to 8 feet from the pier, reached by short gangways.

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