Fighting fires in early Melita

Fires were an ever-present danger in the early prairie communities of Manitoba. With most buildings made of wood, one fire could decimate a town. For this reason, towns quickly organized plans and groups to fight fires if they were to ever erupt.

In Melita, the first citizens’ meeting was held in 1893 to raise concerns about fire protection. Two men, Elliott and Broderick, were appointed to a community to look at getting fire extinguishers while in Winnipeg. Six years later, the recommendation was made to build fire walls in the community. The first wall was built along Main Street, with three feet on either side of the ground providing a fire break. In June of that year, a cylinder chemical engine was purchased and mounted on two wheels, with a ladder, for the cost of $900. A fire bell was also ordered at the same time. In July, a fire hall was built for $600 and the first volunteer fire brigade was organized among men in the community.

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In 1901, two new fire walls were built to provide further protection for buildings in the downtown area. These walls were made of brick and were nine to 13 inches thick. They were also two feet higher than the adjoining buildings. A third wall was built on the north side of the Metropolitan Hotel in 1903. Two years later, a fresh coat of paint was put on the fire hall to spruce it up a bit. A jail was also attached to the fire hall that same year.

In 1907, tanks were placed under the sidewalk on Main Street to provide water if a fire ever erupted.

It would be five years later when the first devastating fire would occur in Melita. A fire started at the livery stable owned by Mr. Ainley. Four horses were died, and damages were estimated at $4,000. The following year, 1913, a phone was installed at the fire hall.

In 1916, the town voted to spend $12,000 on a new fire hall. While this was approved that year, it was decided to repeal the decision in 1917. Instead, renovations were conducted on the old fire hall instead of building a brand-new hall. Also, in 1917, a new cylinder chemical engine was purchased to provide some extra fire protection.

It would not be until 1928 that a motorized fire truck would be purchased by the community. The first fire truck, as we think of them, would be a Model A Ford Truck. In 1946, Melita purchased a modern fire engine for $3,000 from the Royal Canadian Air Force airport at Carberry. A siren was also purchased and mounted at the fire hall.

Melita was lucky compared to many other communities at the turn of the 20th century, with few major fires threatening the community. A big reason for this was the decisions by the administration of town to always stay one step ahead of the ever-present danger of fire.

Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.

Information for this column comes from Melita: Our First Century.

© Melita New Era

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