Ashcroft’s first fire hall (far left) in a pre-1916 photo. It stood where the fire bays of the modern hall now stand on Railway Avenue (see below for a picture of the modern hall taken from the same angle, and note the hill in the background). Photo: Barbara Roden.

Ashcroft’s first fire hall (far left) in a pre-1916 photo. It stood where the fire bays of the modern hall now stand on Railway Avenue (see below for a picture of the modern hall taken from the same angle, and note the hill in the background). Photo: Barbara Roden.

Golden Country: Then as now, fire protection was a concern for Ashcroft

The town’s first fire hall was built before the turn of the 20th century, and others have followed.

The last two years have been particularly brutal ones for fire throughout the province, but the need for fire protection has been understood for well over a century. The early citizens of Ashcroft, living in a town of wooden buildings in a semi-arid desert landscape, began agitating for a fire brigade in 1897, less than a dozen years after the town was established.

“What’s the matter with organizing a fire brigade in Ashcroft?” asked an article in The Journal in January 1897. The timing was right: new waterworks were about to be installed, and hydrants could be located throughout the town. A surveyor determined that a spring across the river could provide enough water, and by February 1898 a fire hall had been constructed on Railway Avenue, north of the CPR station and depot.

The hall contained an upstairs sleeping room for the captain and chiefs, and a pole for them to slide down in case they were needed quickly. In October 1898 apparatus—including fire hose, nozzles, and a hose reel—was purchased for $982.50 (including freight). In 1895 fire chief James Haddock felt that something was needed to warn the town in case of fire, so at his own expense he purchased a bell, which was hung between two high posts beside the hall.

On July 5, 1916 a fire started in the Ashcroft Hotel at the corner of 4th Street and Railway Avenue. The members of the department scrambled to try to halt the blaze, but the hotel was beyond saving. “Volunteer brigade did excellent work,” wrote R.D. Cumming in The Journal on July 8, “but before sufficient water could be applied hotel building was a seething mass of flames. It was soon realized that water was of no avail.”

The firefighters then did their best to limit the damage, but the pump from the river malfunctioning and the CPR water tank being dry. The water tank on the hillside above town that held Ashcroft’s water supply soon ran dry as well, and a bucket brigade was formed to haul water from the river.

Next day, as Ashcroft took stock, the fire hall was among the casualties, although some of the apparatus had survived, and was housed in temporary quarters. The bell had also survived, and was set up once more. Requests for government funding to build a replacement fire hall were turned down, so a public meeting was held on February 15, 1919, and it was decided that a subscription would be taken up to raise the approximately $360 needed to build a new fire hall. Businesses were asked for $10 each, and households asked for $2 each.

Work began on April 15, 1919 under the supervision of contractor Robert Stoddart. The wooden building—erected on the site of its predecessor—measured 12 feet by 20 feet, with a 25-foot-high drying tower for the fire hoses. The bell was relocated to the fire hall, where it was in use until 1942, when it was replaced by a siren and discarded.

By 1959 it was clear that the fire hall no longer met the needs of a modern fire department. A community group was formed, and the decision was made to construct a new building that would accommodate both a fire hall and a museum (the museum artefacts, which had been removed from their first home above the Journal building, were being housed in a warehouse).

Donations were solicited from past and current residents, with the recently-incorporated Village of Ashcroft pledging to match all donations up to $3,000. Unusually for Ashcroft, the building would be constructed of brick so as to be fireproof, and would measure 50 feet by 60 feet.

Fundraising began in August 1959, and construction beside the 1919 fire hall began in mid-October. Canadian and American coins from 1959 were placed under the first row of blocks, and the exterior was complete by December, with the cement floor and landscaping completed in April 1960. The total cost of the building was just over $10,000, with the northern part and its two bay doors housing the fire department, and the southern portion serving as Ashcroft’s museum until the former public building at 4th and Brink Streets became the museum in June 1982.

The museum portion of the building was converted into office and training space for the fire department. The 1919 fire hall was moved to its current location at the east end of the Ashcroft bridge in 1996, and in 2001 new equipment bays were added to the 1959 building, occupying the space vacated by the historic hall, which became something of an unofficial symbol of Ashcroft; at one time birdhouses fashioned to look like it could be seen in the yards of many Ashcroft homes.

The original fire bell had been obtained by another community, but was eventually brought back to Ashcroft, where it formed part of a historic display at the north entrance to the bridge. The display was dismantled in 1979, and the original bell now hangs in a tower at the Lady Minto Plaza on Railway Avenue. An exact replica of the bell was commissioned by the Revitalization Committee in 1996, and now hangs at the 1919 fire hall.

Over the years the sun, wind, snow, and rain took its toll on the wooden building. In 2017 the Village of Ashcroft was successful in receiving grant money to replace the wood siding, install new doors, windows, and trim, paint everything, and install new exterior lighting. Although the hall is not open to visitors, it contains a small display, which can be viewed through a large window. As part of the refurbishment, new storyboards have been prepared and a new display will be developed for the interior of the hall, so that by the time it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019, it will be more than ready to start its second century as an Ashcroft landmark.



editorial@accjournal.ca

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The 1919 fire hall, with the 1959 fire hall and museum in the foreground. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The 1919 fire hall, with the 1959 fire hall and museum in the foreground. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The 1919 fire hall in its current location, after being refurbished in early 2018. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The 1919 fire hall in its current location, after being refurbished in early 2018. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The modern fire hall on Railway Avenue. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The modern fire hall on Railway Avenue. Photo: Barbara Roden.