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The Great Fire of 1913

May 8, 2024

Leonard Hoyle, Brian Sharples and Albert Hoyle hunting, burned land, between Irondale and Burnt Rivers, after the 1913 fire

Excepts From the Lindsay Post, August 22, 1913

In the second half of the nineteenth century, practically all of the pine trees that could be profitably floated to market, were harvested, leaving behind their trunks and branches. Once this slash dried, it made excellent kindling, fuelling many large fires. The largest episode, often called the Great Fire of 1913, consumed 175,840 acres, including parts of Anstruther, Burleigh, Cavendish, Glamorgan, Harvey, Monmouth, Methuen, Snowden, Dysart, Lutterworth, Anson, Cardiff, Guilford, Stanhope and Eyre townships—once among the finest pineries tributary to the Trent. This fire burned a substantial acreage in other watersheds as well. Those who were caught in the fire’s path could do little but flee. By comparison, the 1948 Chapleau-Mississagi Fire consumed 645,340 acres—being the largest recorded fire in Ontario’s history. Though in hindsight the summer of 1913 was remembered for its ‘Great Fire,’ the areas consumed were not geographically contiguous, at the time it was seen as a season of many bush fires. The excerpts from the Lindsay Point capture the fears that whole communities would burn, and the desperate struggles to contain the fire. At the time, a shovel was a common fire fighting tool. The next summer the Great War began.

Haliburton in Danger: Fire is Only One Mile from Village

A special despatch to the Globe last night states that serious fires are raging at Lochlin, Donald, Harburn, Eagle Lake, Redstone, Pine Lake and Minden. All these are settlements circling the valley in which Haliburton is situated. Fed by vast areas of sun-scorched bush and forests which are like tinder, the fires are gradually closing in on Haliburton. They have now reached a point only a mile from the town, and the efforts of those who are battling with them are powerless to stay their advance or change their direction. Up to the present no great damage has been done to property, with the exception of timber, large tracts of which have been reduced to ashes in the fire-swept districts. The properties of George Barry and John Bain, which are directly in the path of the advancing fires, are in great danger of being completely destroyed unless the wind veers and MANY ON FIGHTING LINE.

The whole country round Haliburton is in imminent danger and is at the mercy of the wind. At present the wind is favourable, but any moment may bring a change and result in the devastation of valuable property. Many men form the town and surrounding country are fighting the fires in every direction, but the real hope of checking the flames lies in the veering of the wind.

Fire Sweeping Grand Island

Fenelon Falls: The bush fires which are raging to the north of this village are apparently not abating by the smoke which at times is a serious inconvenience. A party went up to Grand Island on Tuesday to fight the flames there, which have already swept 500 acres of timbered land, and also consumed 100 cords of cut wood. Mr. W. Austin’s loss is already considerable, and unless rain comes soon to check the fires, and help the crops and other vegetation which are suffering from the long continued drought, his loss and that of many others may assume serious proportion.

Smoke Over Sturgeon Lake

The smoke at Sturgeon Lake yesterday and today was very strong, and so dense it was sometimes impossible to see across the lake. At intervals yesterday ashes and cinders rained from the air and persons paddling to the Point from Fenelon Falls found themselves covered with charcoal. Captain Scollard of the Stoney Lake, informed a Post reporter last night that the whole of Stoney Lake Section was enveloped in smoke. Fire was raging from Buckhorn to Bobcaygeon.

Raging Near Coboconk

Rosedale, August 20: The atmosphere of Rosedale is decidedly smoky at present, and has been for days. Bush fires have been raging in the back country north of Coboconk. On Saturday fire broke out on Grand Island and is still raging, although strenuous efforts are being made to subdue the flames. The fire on Saturday and Sunday covered 11 acres of bush, and in spite of the danger, it was a most beautiful sight. One family only lived in the district and they have been removed to a place of safety.


The dry spell continues. Householders are complaining about the scarcity of water in the wells. Many wells are now dry. Rain would be welcome.

Fire Raging Eight Days

In the Haliburton district, fire has been raging for eight days. It began in the south eastern section of Donald, the final station below Haliburton. Several farmers residing between Donald and Lochlin were forced to abandon their premises, large chemical works at Donald were closed down for a time, after losing 15,000 cords of timber, but were able to resume work yesterday, while at Haliburton, two large lumber mills were compelled to close down.

A serious fire is raging in a northerly direction between Orillia and Gravenhurst, one wing of which is moving in the direction of Haliburton, which is situated in a valley. Another fire is demolishing a large, well timbered forest, the property of an English syndicate. The size of the forest, which is likely to be completely destroyed, may be gathered from the estimate that it will take between fifteen twenty years to cut timber in it. The latest advices from this district state that the wind, which was taking the fire towards Haliburton, veered two nights ago, turning its path from a northerly to a southerly course and away from Haliburton.

To Pull Water Dams

As a result of practically the whole district being under fire, it has only been possible to bring in temporary supplies of provisions to the lumber camps. The conditions at the head waters of the Gull River are so bad that the official caretaker, William Roberts, of Harburn, has been notified to pull the dams and let the water down to serve the mills. Wild game has been forced to fly form the fire to the neighbourhood of Haliburton, a few miles east of which some deer have been seen with their ears and tails scorched. A number of trappers who went into the burnt district found the skeletons and charred remains of such game as deer, foxes and wolves, which perished in the flames.

A Burned Bear

On Sunday, a bear, with the hair burned off its entire body, wandered into Harburn. Everywhere creeks and springs are dried up and large numbers of farmers report the loss of cattle and sheep, which wandered in search of water. The lumber camps are not sending horses into the fire-swept districts, and just enough supplies to serve the gangs [that] are available. Trails are being opened and ‘catching’ [or cadging—teams of horses moving provisions] has commenced.

Some idea of the strength of the fires may be gained from the fact that for a distance of between twenty and thirty miles around the fire zone the atmosphere is dense and smoke-laden, resembling a heavy fog. The fire flows hither and thither under the influence of air currents created by the heat of the fires. The intense heat of last week has rendered both bush and forest as dry as tinder, and only the slightest breeze is necessary to carry the devouring element over a fresh tract. It is ten years since this district was last swept by fires.

Dams Burned by Forest Fires

Peterborough Times: As previously reported in the Times, forest fires are ranging in the north country. The worst part of these fires, as said, are in the township of Cavendish and Anstruther. However, the Jumbo Dam on the Burnt River has been destroyed by fire. The Deer Lake dam on the Massassaugua River has also been burned. 15 dams built by lumbermen on creeks leading to the Massassagua have also been burned. These latter named dams are on Stoney, Copper and Cranberry Creeks. They will have to be replaced to enable next season’s lumbering operations to begin.

Mr. McClellan, Superintendent of the Trent Canal, has sent gangs of men to Highwater, Eagle and Gull Lakes to fight the fires. A gang of men has also been sent for the same purpose to Squaw and Bark Rivers.

Farming Country Dying of Thirst

The Toronto News says: From Lindsay to Bobcaygeon there is a stretch of country that has not had a shower of rain for six weeks. The meadows are literally burned bare of any sign of growth. In many fields, hardly a green blade of grass appears. Much of the grain is very short in the stalk. It is pathetic to see the cattle eating the dead grass. Only weeds, and they are not very numerous, seem to be thriving. One was told of a farmer with nine cows who, for a week or so, had only got half a pail of milk each day. There was a promise of rain on Saturday night, but the storm covered the country only from Whitby to Port Perry. Still in a land of lakes and rivers, wide stretches of farming country are dying of thirst.

Forest Fires Still Burning:

Reports from the north country this morning brought the information that the bush fires were still raging near Gelert and at other points in Haliburton County. A rumour was in circulation this morning that the village of Minden had been swept by fire, but this proved incorrect. A bush fire is raging west of the village.

Fire Creeping in on Donald

“Unless a rainfall sets in today, the Chemical Plant at Donald is doomed.” This statement made by a gentleman from Haliburton to a Post reporting this morning. The north country was enveloped in a dense cloud of smoke and it was impossible to see fifty yards from the train. Large cinders carried by the breeze are dropping into Haliburton village in great quantities, and while there is no great danger of the village being enveloped by the forest fires, still the villagers fear the cinders might start a conflagration at any time.

The fire and smoke is so severe the tourists have been obliged to break up camp at Kushog Lake and return home. Fire is now sweeping through the Donald limits, and yesterday the Chemical Plant was closed down in order that the men might fight the flames. Last night about 11 o’clock, residents of Donald drove into Haliburton village for shovels to fight the fire. The situation, they stated, was alarming. Col. Chandler, of the Salvation Army, Toronto, came down form Haliburton this morning, and in conversation with Capt. Cranwell of the local corps, stated that the situation was a critical one for the settler William Cole, a former Lindsay resident, who resides three miles from Donald, lost his house and barns. They were swept away by the forest fires.

Fire Checked at Donald

Minden: August 15: The ravages of the fire fiend beggar description. Words fail in an endeavor to portray the extent of the conflagrations, the damage done, and the general conditions associated with the advance of the flames. All the employees of the Donald Chemical Works, situated on the G.T.R. between Haliburton and Gelert, have turned out to fight the fire, which is but a mile and a quarter form the company’s plant. At Moore’s Falls, below Gull Lake, even the women have taken to the woods to assist the fire fighters and the supply of shovels in the north country is exhausted. At least all that are available are in use.

Drive out Animals

In the townships of Digby, Longford, Lutterworth and a section of Anson, it is simply impossible to estimate the section of country that is swept by fire. So extensive is it that deer, beaver, skunks and even wolves have been driven before the flames into sections where they are seldom seen, and a few days ago an unusually large wolf was shot in Anson township. A large part of this country is but sparsely settled, and in several of the townships wide beaver meadows and hardwood brush and trimmings from the wood that has been cut. This is the driest of fuel and invites the flames to do their worst.

At Donald this morning a blacksmith with his wife and family were removed with their effects to a point farther from the flames. In Minden recently, ashes fell on the streets and fields, and at night the clouds are illuminated by the dull red reflection of the fires. Unless rain falls in the near future, the loss to the country will run into big figures.

No Grazing for Cattle

Another distressing feature is the fact that throughout the country there is practically no grazing for the cattle. Sheep and cows are eating weeds and shrubs they would scorn ordinarily. But the grass is seared and brown, and there is no alternative for cattle. Springs around Minden are dried up, and river water has been used by the residents. In some cases, cattle have been driven four and five miles for water, and when they reach home again their condition was almost as bad as when they were driven out for a drink.

The whole situation is creating distress for the settlers. To drive eight miles through dense smoke is nothing unusual these days. The blame for the outbreak is placed upon campers. There are a few bush rangers, but they are entirely too few to cover the country with any degree of thoroughness. The north country has been badly neglected in this respect and the parsimonious policy employed is proving costly for many, who can ill afford a loss.

Lakehurst, August 15: Berry pickers are blamed for the fires that are raging about two or three miles north of here around Ball Lake. Fires lighted for dinner are believed to have been neglected. Today, the breeze is a little stronger than usual and the smoke that has hung over the settlement has lifted. The fires are receiving opposition, but it is with little success. The residents are hoping and praying for rain.

Minden, August 15: The methods of fighting the fire are principally by digging trenches and throwing up the earth to break the path of the fire as it runs through the grass. It is an arduous task, and owing to the rapidity with which the flames spread, it is over unavailing, for they work around the turned earth. Reports from Haliburton this morning are to the effect that he progress of the fire on its inroads towards the chemical plant at Donald has been stayed, thanks to the splendid work of the fire fighters. The worst, it is hoped, is now over at this point, although there is no telling what may happen if rain does not set in. The fire is now one mile from Gelert, and the people in that section are praying for rain to check its progress.

Bad Fires Near Cameron Lake

Bush fires are raging in the northern parts of the country, and the air is full of smoke. Indian Point, Mr. J.H. Carnegie’s property on Balsam Lake, is reported to be on fire, and there is said to be fire in behind Cranberry Bay on Cameron Lake. Rain is much needed not only to check the fires, but to help the crops which are suffering from the continued drought.

Fighting Fire near Donald

Reports from Haliburton this morning state that the residents in and around Donald fought the bush fires all day Thursday up until an early hour this morning. The flames are quite close to the chemical plant, but strong hopes are entertained that their progress will be stayed, but only by a stiff fight. Everybody in the north is praying for rain. Everything has been baked by the immense heat and a copious rainfall would prove a blessing.

Fire is raging in Hadlington district, Haliburton County, and at present the situation looks very serious, causing the settlers much alarm. The rain which fell on Sunday stopped the fire for a time, but it has started again. The Peterborough Co. have sent in a gang of men to fight it, and we hope that Providence will favour us with some more rain which seems our only way out of it, as everything is so dry.

The Haliburton correspondent of the Minden Echo says: The fire fiend which as been very quiet this season, so far as this district is concerned, is on the rampage now, and several fires are ranging. Though none of them are near enough at the time of writing to cause any alarm, ashes and cinders are falling in plenty. To make matters worse wells, springs and creeks are drying up everywhere. Springs that have never been known to fail before are now dry, and water is in many cases hauled long distances even for stock. If fire breaks out in some quarters, it will be hard to fight it. Mr. Preston, the Canadian Land Company Ranger, said he has less fire on their limits than in any season for twenty years.

Peterborough, August 14: For the past two or three days the air in this city has been darkened by smoke from forest fires which have been raging in the vicinity of Pigeon and Bald Lakes. A party of tourists left an unquenched camp fire that caused a blaze which has done great damage. Farther north in the country, in Cavendish township, on the limits of the Peterborough Lumber Company, fires have occurred. They were thought under control, but last night a call for help came, and the lumber company sent forth from the city fifteen or twenty men by autos. The men took proper apparatus for fighting fire. No reports of the result of their efforts have yet been received. Great damage must have been done, as dense volumes of smoke have been rolling over the northern lakes for days. Woodlot and field fires are also raging in Cavan township, west of the city. Among the limits of the railways section men have been sleeping in their clothes in readiness for a call to fight fires along the track.

From the Lindsay Post, August 29, 1913

Much Territory Burned Over

Minden Echo: During the past few days we made enquiry as to the extent of the bush fires in this county and were fortunate enough to meet people who could tell from their personal observation. On Monday, the Digby fire had not only reached the settlement at Moore’s Falls, keeping nearly everyone busy watching their buildings, but was burning along the west side of the road opposite the summer cottages at Moore’s Lake, creeping on its way toward Norland. Another branch of the same fire came out toward the neighbourhood north of Deep Bay, Gull Lake. To head this off, one of the settlers started a fire near his clearing, which for a time threatened to do more damage than the big fire. However, no buildings were burned, except an old barn. Another fire, which came through from Longford township, destroyed all the beaver hay, west of the Scotch Line neighbourhood.

In Stanhope, the hills north of Maple Lake have been swept, but no damage except to the timber has been reported. The Snowdon township fire has practically swept over the entire lumbering district, from the Lochlin and Gelert neighbourhoods to Irondale and vicinity of Gooderham. It has also crossed the Irondale road and is burning its way towards the Three Brothers back of the Furnace Falls neighbourhood. In this fire Mr. Arthur Graham lost some two hundred cords of wood.

So far, we have heard of no one being burnt out, fireguards having been ploughed in the fields, but the regrettable feature is that so much territory has been burned over, destroying the young timber in these lumbered out districts, in many places burning through groves of young pines that had already reached a diameter of a foot or more, requiring many years of conservation to replace.

Fire Situation at Haliburton

The continued drought and heat have about completed the destruction of the crops in this district. Even the gardens are drying up and unless rain comes soon, potatoes and other roots will be very poor. But the principal trouble from the dry spell is the increasing number of fires in the vicinity. Though the fire situation is not nearly so serious as the Toronto and Lindsay papers report, it is certainly alarming. Today, Tuesday, a new fire was started out at John Bain’s and at present this is the only one threatening the village. A day’s north wind would bring it to the outlying houses. It is hoped, however to keep it on the west side of Head Lake, which will leave Haliburton reasonably safe. Donald has had its troubles for two weeks past, being compelled to close the plant to get sufficient men to check the flames. Their chief danger was over Sunday, and the plant resumed operations on Monday.

Fires Burning at Bass Lake

A Post Representative who was to Bobcaygeon on Wednesday was informed that bush fires were bad at Bass Lake, Galway Township, and that the deer hunting grounds had been swept by the flames.

From the Lindsay Post, September 5, 1913

There was a big fire last night about eight o’clock in Pogue’s swamp, which was taken by many townspeople to be a house or barn on the outskirts of town. Someone took it to be Rider & Kitchener’s excelsior factory and rang in an alarm for the fire brigade, who made a quick run to the works, before it was discovered that the place was not in flames. The fire was very bright and with the heavy volumes of smoke threw a brilliant red reflection which could be seen all over the south part of town. Pogue’s swamp is south of Lindsay two or three miles out, in South Ops, near McArthur’s school house.

Ready to Fight Fire at Limits

The Carew Lumber Company has a gang of thirty men on their limits, Harvey Township, for the purpose of fighting the fires, which are dangerously close. It has been understood that no damage has been sustained yet.

From the Lindsay Post, September 12, 1913

Fighting Fires in Haliburton

Minden Echo: During the past two weeks our citizens have learned what it means to have to fight fire and many of them carry a vivid idea of what forest fires really mean. Sometimes in July, a large smoke was seen to rise over east somewhere and we watched it carelessly at first, but as it crept nearer and nearer interest deepened as to that fire’s intentions. Day by day the sun rose, his golden light partially obscured by smoke wended his way across a tearless sky and settled to rest in a cloud of western smoke. Signs of rain failed to deliver the goods, wells failed, water haulers got busy, cattle were driven long distances to drink, and still that fire ceaselessly advanced until neighbours were called in to assist Mr. A. Anderson to move his household effects to Mrs. J. Francis’, burn a fire guard and put up a good fight to save the buildings. At the old home, the stables were burned, but the dwelling saved by a close fight. The fire also got dangerously near to Mr. Jas. Walker’s, Mr. M. Howe’s, Mr. Isaac Sedgewick and Mr. J. Francis’ and was stopped only at the river and the road. Had it leaped the road between the river and Mr. J. Walker’s there might have been a much worse story to tell. During the fight, Master Harold Sedgewick, son of Mr. Isaac Sedgwick, returning from carrying lunch to one of the men on the fire line, was overtaken by flames, but was rescued by his father in the nick of time when the fire was but a few feet from him and advancing rapidly. Early Friday morning mother nature came to the rescue and proved the best fire fighter of all. It is about 26 years since our township has received such a damaging fire, and we wonder if the lesson will be heeded. Someone purposely or injudiciously started the blaze that has burned a wealth of promising timber, some beaver hay, etc. to say nothing of the time spent protecting our farms and homes in a fight that for strenuousness and systematic persistency has had few equals.

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