The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 29 no 4, October 2017. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
One of the main benefits to Cantley on gaining its independence from Gatineau in 1989 is having local emergency services: we now have a fire department with a fire hall located in the heart of Cantley as well as satellite stations, staffed by highly trained part-time firefighters and first responders.
It‘s been over 185 years since the first settlers moved into the territory that has become Cantley. In the early days of Cantley’s history, a fire service, if it existed, would have been miles and hours away in Hull or Gatineau. There were no phones in the homes to call for help. It was up to homeowners and their neighbours to do their best. Sometimes they were lucky, but sometimes they were not.
In May 1949, the explosion of a coal oil incubator containing 250 eggs almost burned down the home of Emile Brunet. He and his brothers, Arthur and Jean-Paul, were working in a field near the house when Jean-Paul happened to look toward the house. He saw smoke pouring out of the upstairs front window. They ran to the house to find the walls of the downstairs incubator room and one of the partitions, all burning. Two of the brothers ran upstairs by a back stairway to chop a hole in the ceiling of the burning room so they could pour water down onto the walls. The other brother ran to their nearest neighbour, Archie Barton, to get him to come with his fire extinguisher to join the two that they had in use. Although there was damage, the house was saved, and so were the eggs!
In May 1954, two elderly Sullivan sisters lost their lives during their afternoon nap when a fire broke out in their bedroom of their Wilson’s Corners home.
A passerby alerted Maynard McGlashan, owner of the nearby general store, to the fact that smoke was coming from the home. When Maynard ran to the house, he could see in the window that the women were lying in their room. He broke into the locked house but the smoke was so thick, he could hardly see. Even as he poured buckets of water on the smouldering mattress on their bed, it was too late; Margaret and Alice were already deceased.
This was Maynard’s second experience with fire. In January 1938, fire destroyed the two-story wooden building which housed the general store, started by his father, the post office and his family’s residence as well as all the stock and a lot of their furniture. The villagers rallied and formed a bucket brigade. They did manage to keep the fire from spreading to the house next door, the store belonging to Henry Easy, which also housed the telephone exchange of the East Wakefield Telephone Company. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.
Give a cheer for our part-time firefighters and first responders who have trained so hard and have developed into a highly professional and dedicated force.
Mary Holmes is a board member of Cantley 1889, a volunteer organization dedicated to discovering, cataloguing, protecting and promoting Cantley’s history.
There are many more “fire” stories to be told. We invite our readers to share their memories about this or any of our monthly articles.