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Remember This? When horses helped fight fires

Especially in the winter months, when the roads weren't always plowed
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2002.9.62
The former Central Fire Hall is pictured at the corner of Bruce Street and Wellington Street East. It was demolished in 1987. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

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Remember this . . . The Central Fire Station of 1922

During the early part of the twentieth century, fire services in Sault Ste. Marie were centred downtown on Queen Street.

As the city grew the need for additional fire stations led to more stations being located around the city.

The No. 1 Station was located at 741 Queen St. East (beside City Hall) and the No. 2 Station was located on Central Park Avenue.

By 1921 there was also a No. 3 Station located on Wallace Terrace.

In 1922 it was decided that a new central fire hall was needed.

It was suggested that the city’s police, water and lights departments would occupy the Queen Street location and Station No. 2 would be rented or disposed of.

Plans were drawn up and a location was selected at the northwest corner of Bruce and Wellington Streets. The estimated cost for the building was $34,200 and $3,500 for the property.

At the March 1922 City Council meeting the tentative plans for a summer construction were introduced. The building’s main level would house the firefighting equipment, a stable, a feed room, a shop, a battery chamber and the furnace room. The second floor at the back of the building would be for the firemen’s quarters.

The location was discussed and Fire Chief W.J. Phillips supported a Bruce Street location.

The Central Fire Hall was built for horses. Motorized fire trucks were acquired in 1918 but horses continued to be used during the winter until 1938 “because you couldn’t depend on trucks.”

During the winter months, the streets were not always plowed and the trucks were unable to get to the fires so they continued to use horses to pull the fire equipment to the scene of the fire!

In a Sault Star article, Clifford Matheson reminisced that “when the doors to the stables were tripped the horses would run right under the harness. And as soon as the harness was on and fastened, off they went ... you got out of the station just about as fast as you could with a truck.”

When the use of horses was finally discontinued, Deputy Fire Chief Thurston commented that it took 20 years to get the smell of horses out of the fire hall!

The earliest fire engines were not always reliable.

They had difficulty starting the engines in the cold winter months and they could not navigate the snowy conditions of the roads in the early years.

Mr. Matheson recalled that in 1919, their fire engine had solid rubber tires, making a very uncomfortable ride down Queen Street.

This Central Fire Hall served the city for many years but by the early 1980’s it was very clear that a newer facility was needed. In May of 1987 the Central Fire Station was demolished at a cost of $10,752.

Council had reviewed various proposals for the future use of the building but after great debate it was decided that the various considerations were not suitable for the location.

Within 3 days of this decision, the old building was demolished. The city had plans to improve the traffic flow by adding a right turn lane from Bruce Street onto Wellington Street. They also considered the construction of an underpass at the site of the CP railway tracks to ease traffic congestion.

The fire fighters who worked there throughout the years had many fond memories of the time that they spent in this Central Fire Hall, even if they did have to contend with the smell of horses!

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Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here