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Alliston reduced to rubble after the great fire of 1891

February 24, 2022   ·   0 Comments

A walk down Victoria Street in Alliston reveals a lot of nice older buildings, but when you really take a look around, they aren’t that old considering the Town had a thriving downtown by the 1880s.

That’s because the entire downtown area had to be rebuilt after the great fire of May 8, 1891.

Many small towns in Ontario, including Tottenham and Beeton, went up in flames during that time period.

It was an era when many small towns had yet to organize a fire brigade and when a fire did break out, local residents had to pass bucket in an attempt to put out the flames.

With many buildings in close proximity and fire safety protocols not really established, many towns were a fire just waiting to happen.

The great fire of Alliston started in the horse stables outside of the Queens Hotel located right in the heart of the downtown area.

When you have a wooden building with hay and straw in the middle of a downtown area, it wouldn’t take much to have a fire go out of control in very short order.

And that’s what happened in Alliston. 

Around 12:45 p.m. on May 8, the alarm was sounded that the stables were on fire.

Someone rang the town bell and that was a signal to everyone that an emergency was taking place.

Local residents arrived with buckets and attempted to put out the fire but it was a losing battle.

As the fire spread to the hotel, embers were scattered around town by wind and more fires started breaking out.

At the time, most homes and building had cedar shingles on the roof which provided fuel as the embers landed on rooftops.

The locals were quickly overwhelmed by the fire which was now burning on both sides of Victoria Street.

Telegraph calls went out to neighbouring communities advising them of the fire and appealing for help.

The Town of Collingwood responded and loaded their pumper on a train car to make the trip to Alliston.

The pumper and firemen arrived a little after 3:00 p.m. and started to work on the fire.

Fortunately. they were able to get things under control and stop the fire from spreading even further.

By the end of the day, the fire had consumed an area of 30 acres and the entire downtown core of Alliston was in ruins. The only major structure was that was left untouched on Victoria Street was the Methodist church.

The number of buildings destroyed was estimated to be around 130. That included both businesses and around 50 private homes.

People opened their homes and took in those who were now out on the street because their houses had been consumed by the flames.

One newspaper reported that “not one dry goods store or grocery store is left in town.”

The estimate of property damage was pegged at between $450,000 and $500,000, which would have been a huge sum at that time.

The next day townsfolk gathered to survey that damage and realized most of their town was gone.

The main street was a pile of rubble after buildings had collapsed leaving only a few brick shells still standing.

It didn’t take long for rebuilding efforts to get underway. The town appealed for government help.

Within a few years, new building were constructed and a new downtown was built.

The Victoria Street you see today is the result of that effort to keep the town going and persevere through a tragedy.

By Brian Lockhart
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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