Great Fire of Toronto (1849)
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The fire began at Post's Tavern, east of Jarvis Street and north of King Street in the early morning of April 7, 1849. This area, known as Market Block, was the city's early core.
The fire destroyed buildings bounded by King Street East to the south, Church Street to the west, Adelaide Street East to the North, and Jarvis Street to the east. Much of the business core of the city was wiped out, including the predecessor of the current St. James Cathedral. While the buildings on the main streets were brick, the inner buildings along laneways were made of wood and likely fuelled the fire.
There was limited firefighting by early fire companies (Toronto Fire Department was not formed until 1875) and they were made up mostly of volunteers. Fire hydrants and water tanks or barrels had been added in 1842 by the Metropolitan Water Company, but these were not enough for the poorly manned fire services of the day.
Fire Fighting in the 1840s
Before the fire, Toronto's fire-fighting capabilities were limited to 6 volunteer companies operating in one fire hall at Court Street and Church Street. Manual pumpers and tankers involved far too much manpower and would prove to be no match for the speed of a major fire. No lives appeared to have been lost, but scores of buildings over several blocks were destroyed, including St. James Cathedral (1833), the incorporated city of Toronto's first city hall at the southwest corner of King and Jarvis Streets (1834), and St. Lawrence Market North.
The fire halls existing in Toronto in 1849 were:
- Fireman's Hall on Church Street south of Adelaide Street East (Newgate) - Built 1826 and renumbered as Fire Hall Number 5 in 1861; it was closed in 1874.
- Fire Hall Number 1 at 139-141 Bay Street - Built 1841 and closed by Toronto Fire Department in 1924.
- Engine Number 4 at St. Patrick's Market on Queen Street West - Built 1842 and closed 1861.
- Fire Hose Company Number 2 at Berkeley Street - Built 1849 and closed 1859.
A second Fireman's Hall at Bay Street had been built in 1839, but it had closed in 1841, some 8 years before the fire.
The buildings burned down were made of wood, so in response the city changed building codes to prevent future losses of this magnitude.
None of the buildings within the Market Block (10–15 acres of property) survived, but buildings surrounding the block, such as the Daniel Brooke Building at King and Jarvis, were spared.
St Lawrence Market North (1851) was rebuilt and new buildings like St. Lawrence Hall (1851) and Cathedral Church of St. James (Toronto) (1853) were built to code. This did not mean an end to future fires, as the year 1904 proved in the city's new core.
- Source: Marla Friebe, A History of the Toronto Fire Services 1874-2002, Toronto: City of Toronto, 2003