The Fire Companies of Old Victoria


BC Historical Quarterly January 1946.

 Fire, the good servant but the terrible master, has a certain fascination for us all. Nothing attracts a crowd more quickly than a fire, and most of us are gripped with a not unpleasant combination of excitement and apprehension when the alarm bells ring and the sirens wail. Few stories are more colourful than the record of man’s efforts to combat fires and make some provision against their ravages; yet it is a story that in great part still remains untold. Remarkably little, for example, has appeared in print about the fire brigades that contribute so much to the security of life in the highly inflammable cities of the Pacific Coast, and those of British Columbia are no exception to the rule.

As one would expect, the first fire brigade hereabouts was in Victoria. The gold-rush of 1858 was no more than a few weeks old when a group of anxious townspeople approached Governor Douglas with the request that something be done to protect the town from destruction by fire. Wooden buildings, shacks, and tents were springing up in considerable numbers, and the danger was very real. Douglas acted promptly, and equipment was ordered through the San Francisco firm of Truett, Jones & Arrington, which had an agency in Victoria.

Some of the original papers relating to the transaction are on file in the Provincial Archives. Two hand-operated pumping engines were secured, one of them new and one second-hand. The latter was purchased on July 14, 1858, from George H. Hossefross, and was described as follows in the indenture:

“One Suction fire Engine recently used by the Monumental Fire Company of the said City of San Francisco, and familiarly known by the name of “Telegraph,” complete Five hundred feet of Hose to suit said Engine One Hose Cart, heretofore used to serve the aforesaid Engine.[i]

The purchase price was $1,600. The “Telegraph” was a relatively small machine, later described as a third-class Baltimore suction engine;[ii] the cylinder seems to have measured 6 inches, with a stroke of no more than 8 or 9 inches.[iii] The point cannot be proven, but it seems clear that the “Telegraph” was one of the three engines brought from Baltimore to San Francisco in 1850, when the Monumental Engine Company was first organized, and placed in reserve in 1854, when a much larger engine was secured. Clannish feeling was strong amongst the old volunteer companies, and it is interesting to note that the “Telegraph” had been built by John Rodgers, of Baltimore, a well-known manufacturer of fire-fighting equipment, and that the Monumental Company included a good many old Baltimorean firemen. George Hossefross, who arranged the sale, had been prominent in the Monumental Company since its founding, and had served in 1851—53 as San Francisco’s Chief Engineer (as a Fire Chief was then called).[iv]


The second engine purchased was a new second-class hand engine manufactured by Hunneman & Company, of Boston. It had a 6-inch cylinder and a 14-inch stroke; the invoice forwarded to Douglas adds the details: “color carmine, gold stripe.” The price, complete with hose-cart, was $1,750.[v] No doubt the engine was of the end-stroke type developed by William C. Hunneman, who at one time had been apprenticed to the celebrated Paul Revere.[vi]  To complete the order, 1,013 feet 11 inches of hose were secured from H. A. Cobb, an auctioneer, for $1,647.47. Small items for labour and insurance brought the total cost of the entire shipment to $5,020.47.[vii] The invoice was made out to James Douglas personally, but was paid in the first instance by the Hudson’s Bay Company. At a later date the equipment was all transferred to the Government of the Colony of Vancouver Island, of which Douglas was Governor.

The engines arrived from San Francisco in the steamer Oregon on July 28. The same afternoon they were tested in the courtyard of old Fort Victoria, where water was drawn from a well. The account in the Victoria Gazette reads in part as follows:

“The brakes[viii] were manned by individuals volunteering promiscuously from the crowd drawn together to witness the throwing of the first water by a fire engine in our town, among whom we noticed several old San Francisco firemen. The machines are rather small, but sufficiently powerful to throw a full stream of water over any building in the town with ease. The prompt manner in which Gov. Douglas has acted in this matter is worthy of special praise and will cause our citizens to feel much more secure and safe in their property.[ix] 

Douglas placed the engines in the keeping of A. F. Pemberton, Commissioner of Police, as nothing had actually been done as yet about organizing a fire brigade. Within a day or two, however, he received a petition signed by ‘a large number of our principal shop keepers and property holders” asking that a volunteer brigade be formed at once. On July 31, without waiting for a reply, a public meeting was held in the Hudson’s Bay Company warehouse, and two resolutions approved:

“Resolved, That this meeting heartily approve of the immediate formation of Volunteer Fire Companies, and that a committee be appointed to receive the names of such citizens as are willing to join the Fire Department of this city, and to organize the separate Companies.

“Resolved, That a committee of four be appointed to confer with Mr. Pemberton, Commissioner of Police, as to the intentions of His Excellency Gov. Douglas, relative to the organization of a Fire Department, to select sites for cisterns, and to obtain other information relative to carrying out the views of this meeting.

Later the meeting reconvened and proceeded to settle details. “On motion of Mr. Labatt, the Hunneman Engine Co. was declared to be Fire Co. No. 1, and the Telegraph Co. No. 2.” The membership of each company was to be limited to 100 men.[x] 

Several meetings of the individual companies followed, in the first days of August. Officers were elected and committees appointed to get on with the work of organization; but at this point the whole movement suddenly languished. In part, the reasons are fairly obvious. By the middle of August the exodus from the Fraser River diggings was under way, and Victoria’s first boom was at an end. Real estate ceased to move; building slowed down; population declined, and money was scarce. Added to this was the singular immunity from serious fires enjoyed by Victoria then and later. The fire brigade was required so seldom that it did not seem to be a pressing necessity.

Less apparent, but quite as important, was the discontent arising from Douglas’s action in placing the two fire-engines under the jurisdiction of the police, and his evident expectation that the police would continue to oversee whatever fire brigade might be organized. Many of the men who later became most active in Victoria’s fire companies had come from San Francisco. In background and experience, and in many instances in nationality, they were thoroughly American. As a consequence, they thought in terms of the independent volunteer brigades upon which the great cities of the United States then depended for fire protection. These in many respects resembled brotherhoods; their membership included many prominent citizens, and they were no more anxious to be regulated by others than were the Masons or the Oddfellows. Nor did they welcome the suggestion that they might give place to a paid brigade. One writer thus described the situation in San Francisco in 1855, where, he declared, the fire department was “the right arm “of the city:

“At the ring of the alarm-bell, it is not alone the errand-boy, the counter clerk, or the rowdy corner loafer that start for a scene of temporary excitement. But the merchant-millionaire springs from his cushioned seat; the judge leaves court and cases; the industrious mechanic drops his tools; editors, lawyers and doctors abandon quills, briefs and pills, and with pallid cheek but nervous sinews hurry their engines to the threatened spot. They are playing for a fearful stake. Men must be daring gamblers to foil the enemy they deal with. . . . These are men prouder of their leathern capes than though they were bedecked with the toddery [sic] uniform of a militia general—men who have poured out their means with no stinting hand in the formation of the department. The volunteer system need not be abandoned for a paid fire organization. Nothing could replace the loss of an institution so highly valued. . .[xi]

Douglas, of course, was not thinking in terms of anything so modern as a paid brigade. Neither London nor New York possessed such a thing until 1865. But the British, nevertheless, tended to accept some measure of control, public or private, much more readily than did the Americans. In England, parish brigades supported by parish rates were not unknown. True, the heart of London still placed its trust in the Fire Engine Establishment, which the larger insurance companies had united to organize and finance for reasons of their own; but to Douglas these companies doubtless seemed a sober and responsible lot compared to the boisterous if energetic independent fire companies of New York.

In Victoria interest revived somewhat in January 1859, when the Grand Jury turned its attention to the need for protection against fire, and included the following paragraph in its report:

“In relation to the formation of a Fire Department, from interviews had with the Police Magistrate [A. F. Pemberton], who alone is authorized to act in the premises, we have reason to believe that he is fully impressed with its urgency, and that he will carry out the necessary measures—such as the appointment of Fire Wardens and Engineers, the building of Cisterns, the storing of gunpowder, and other requirements—without further delay.[xii] 

Some action by the authorities followed immediately. On January 15 the Gazette reported that Douglas had “conferred the appointment of Chiefs or Captains of the Fire Department upon Messrs. C. S. Simpson and Edward Coker, with power to organize fire companies and make use of the two engines belonging to the H. B. Co.”—meaning, of course, the two hand engines purchased in San Francisco. As these would be useless if water were not available, contracts were let in April for two cisterns, one described as being on Store Street, and the other on Government Street.[xiii]  One of these was completed in June, when the chain-gang filled it with 25,000 gallons of water.[xiv]

On the vital matter of a fire brigade, however, little was actually accomplished, for in spite of the appointments made, control remained in the hands of the police. Both the Gazette and the more recently founded British Colonist discussed the matter from time to time, and by degrees the point at issue came to the surface. C. S. Simpson, one of the Chiefs, left the Colony, and the other, Edward Coker, was so inactive that the Gazette forgot his existence. When apologizing for the oversight, it is noteworthy that the paper, which was American owned and made a point of keeping clear of local politics, could not refrain from satirical comment:

“We are assured that this gentleman has used every endeavor to organize companies and provide a suitable house for the engines; but so far his efforts, owing to the apathy—not to say opposition—of our authorities, have been attended by no satisfactory results. Thus, if we have a general conflagration we may be assured that it is “by authority “; and no doubt, after its occurrence, the matter of organizing companies and procuring hook and ladder apparatus will “receive serious consideration.”[xv]

Three days later matters suddenly came to a head when Victoria’s first serious fire swept through a warehouse and did damage estimated at $13,350. Only by great good fortune was the blaze prevented from spreading throughout the business district. The Colonist at once struck out boldly for better fire-protection, and a fire brigade independent of police control. Editorially it accused the authorities of “unwisely rejecting all sensible and practical propositions to secure an efficient fire department.”

“To us it seems the height of folly to place an engine in the hands of the Police. Its proper place is in the hands of a volunteer company, having the privilege of choosing its own members. The only veto reserved to the government should be the right to dissolve the Company in case of inefficiency.’[xvi]

The Colonist undoubtedly expressed responsible public opinion on the question. The warehouse fire was no more than out when two well-known citizens, J. J. Southgate and C. W. Wallace, Jr., began circulating subscription lists to raise funds to purchase an alarm-bell and apparatus for a hook and ladder company. The preamble to the lists read, in part:

“We the undersigned, property-holders, house-holders, and residents of the town of Victoria, alarmed by the late fire, and justly fearing a more extensive conflagration, and judging from the past apathy of the people and authorities, that it is now necessary for us to take immediate action for the preservation of our lives and property, herewith subscribe the sum set opposite our respective names. . .[xvii]

A total of 142 subscriptions were reported in the Colonist, and the sum ultimately pledged totalled $1,958. There were ten subscriptions of $50 each, including one from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Those donating $20 each included Dr. W. F. Tolmie, J. W. McKay, and Roderick Finlayson. At least four future Chief Engineers contributed—J. A. McCrea, J. S. Drummond, S. L. Kelly, and John Dickson.[xviii]

A public meeting was held on October 22, at which Amor De Cosmos, editor of the Colonist, was asked to take the chair. A committee of eleven was appointed to purchase equipment and draft a constitution for the new fire company. The members included J. J. Southgate, who is best remembered to-day as one of the founders of Free Masonry in British Columbia; A. H. Guild, who founded the first lodge of Oddfellows in the Province; Edward Coker, Douglas’s Fire Captain, and J. W. McKay. It is interesting to note that two French-speaking members were added to the committee, but that a move to give similar representation to the negroes, who had responded generously to the appeal for funds, of was defeated.[xix]

By the end October $1,300 had been actually collected, and the first orders for equipment sent off to San Francisco. [xx] Early in November tenders were invited for the construction of a two storied engine-house and meeting-hall. The building was to measure 20 by 65 feet, and was to be surmounted by a cupola for an alarm-bell. The cost was not to exceed $1,500.[xxi]

Tuesday, November 22, 1859, is a date of some historical interest, for it was at a meeting held that evening that the Union Hook and Ladder Company was formally organized. The officers elected were as follows: Foreman, W. Pickett; 1st Assistant, D. A. Edgar; 2nd Assistant, N. Hicks; Secretary, E. H. Jackson; Treasurer, C. W. Wallace, Jr.; Steward, J. D. Carroll; Standing Committee: R. Stewart, G. S. Gladwin, A. D. McDonald, J. A. McCrea, and W. H. Oliver.[xxii] This roster shows clearly that the intention was to parallel the form of organization used in San Francisco, which in turn was modelled upon that of New York; and it is probable that those at the meeting already envisaged a full-fledged fire department, composed of a number of fire companies, on the San Francisco model.

The Union Company seems to have gone into action for the first time on December 20. “An alarm of fire was given on Tuesday night,” the Colonist records. “It was merely a stove pipe a-fire, which was soon extinguished. The Engine under Capt. Coker and the Hook and Ladder under Capt. Pickett were promptly on the ground.”[xxiii] The “Hook and Ladder” can have done little upon this occasion except, perhaps, man the brakes for Captain Coker, for as yet it had no equipment of its own. The first item received seems to have been the 600-lb. alarm-bell, the arrival of which was noted in the Colonist for December 29. By that time the contract for the engine-house had been awarded to R. Lewis, the foundations were in, and the sides going up.[xxiv] The building was at the corner of Bastion and Wharf streets, upon what was then the north-west corner of the grounds of old Fort Victoria. The site had been leased from the Hudson’s Bay Company, to which the firemen paid $1 a year ground-rent.[xxv] The Union Company’s hook and ladder apparatus finally arrived on January .6, 1860.[xxvi] Some years later this equipment was described briefly, and the total cost of establishing the Company was indicated, in the report of the fire department’s Chief Engineer:

“First (1st) Class Truck with Ladders Hooks Axes &c &c complete manufactured in Sacramento Cal. by Messrs. Haworth & Ellis in 1854. This Company has incurred a heavy expense in purchasing their present Apparatus, which is [their) private property as is also the House both having cost them $2,776 50/100.[xxvii] 

From another source we know that the alarm-bell had cost $389.59, and the hook and ladder apparatus $700.[xxviii] Uniforms were a source of much pride and joy to the old volunteer brigades, and the Colonist noted one of the Union Company’s first full-dress practices:

“The men appeared in red shirts, black pants, and a leathern belt, on which was inscribed the insignia of the company. The truck was taken to the Union wharf where the men went through the exercise with a correctness worthy of veterans.[xxix]

Fire caps arrived soon after this, and were worn when the Company appeared in full uniform at a benefit tendered to them in March by the Colonial Theatre. Governor Douglas and several members of his family attended the performance, the net proceeds of which amounted to about $300.[xxx]

Meanwhile the matter of manning the fire-engines efficiently had been under consideration, and plans were soon afoot for the organization of two volunteer companies to take charge of them. The first of these, known as Deluge Engine Company No. 1, came into being on March 5, 1860.[xxxi] By March 21 it had enrolled forty members, and a full slate of officers—President, Foreman, Assistant Foremen, Secretary, and Treasurer—were elected that day. The best known of these first office-holders were John Dickson, the 1st Assistant Foreman, and Alfred Waddington, the Treasurer.[xxxii] Edward Coker, still officially regarded as Fire Captain, handed over the Hunneman engine to the new Company, and a first drill was held on March 27. The brief notice of this event in the Colonist is amusing:

“The trial of the Deluge Engine, on Tuesday evening, gave entire satisfaction. The “old box” worked well and performed some tall squirting.[xxxiii]

On April 9 Douglas was elected a life member of the Company.[xxxiv] This tactful move was followed by a request, addressed to the Colonial Secretary, that the transfer of the Hunneman engine be regularized and made permanent on suitable terms.[xxxv]

The second Company, Tiger Engine Company No. 2, was founded on March 23, 1860, though the first officers were not elected until the 26th. John M. Thain was the first Foreman, and Thomas H. McCann the first President. The Tigers took possession of the old “Telegraph” engine on the 29th, and a satisfactory practice was held on April 4.[xxxvi] A fortnight later the Company had the misfortune to suffer an accident. While running to answer a call that proved to be a false alarm, two of the men tripped, fell beneath the engine, and were painfully hurt. The fact that the alarm proved to be false aroused much indignation, and both the Tigers themselves and the Union Hook and Ladder Company offered rewards for the arrest and conviction of the culprit responsible.[xxxvii] 

The first quarters of the Deluge Company were in a rented building on Government Street, between Yates and Johnson streets. The Tiger Company leased premises on Johnson Street, between Government and Broad streets. The two were thus just around the corner from one another, which may have added to the rivalry that was a characteristic of volunteer companies in Victoria, as elsewhere. It is amusing to find that the official records and reports are careful to state which of the companies first poured water on any given fire, and old-timers tell us that if the alarm was false or the blaze a small one, the volunteers were not above turning their hoses on each other. Resorts to fisticuffs, however, seem to have been rare, whereas in some cities they were common enough. The following is one of the many stories told of early fire-fighting in New York City:

“In the early days when water was scarce, there occurred many a fight for possession of a hydrant. One night two rival hose companies arriving at a fire, spotted the dim outline of a hydrant in a poorly lighted street at about the same moment. Angry disagreement between the foremen quickly led to blows and both companies soon were struggling in the darkness. The fast and furious fight was terminated when a bystander, scratching a match on the “hydrant” to light his cigar, discovered that the object for which they were contending was only a half-buried cannon used as a hitching post. As the burning building toppled to its doom, the lurid flare of flames briefly lighted up the bruised, battered and sheepish faces of the men.[xxxviii]

Soon after the Tiger Company moved into its engine-house T. H. McCann, the President, purchased a fine flagstaff that had formerly stood in front of the American Hotel, and presented it to the Company. Captain Alexander Murray, of the steamer Governor Douglas, at once donated a large flag to grace the new pole.[xxxix] Ornament and display were dear to the hearts of the volunteers, and although lack of money prevented the Victoria brigade from acquiring engines bedecked with costly gilding, brasswork, painted panels, and the like, elaborate banners were amongst their treasured possessions, and as the years slipped by various showy items of attire and equipment came the way of the Chief Engineer. Some of these are now to be seen in the Provincial Archives. Most typical is one of the scarlet shirts that were worn by volunteer firemen everywhere. Two leather firefighting helmets, one from the Deluge Company and the other from the Tiger Company, are on display, along with belts from the Deluge and Union Hook and Ladder companies. Two silver dress helmets are included in the collection. The origin of one of these is not known; the other bears an inscription stating that it was “Presented to the Chief Engineer Victoria Fire Department by the Guardian Fire & Life Assurance Co. London, England.” As noted above, it was not unusual for English insurance companies to take an interest in fire brigades. The presentation of the helmet took place as late as December 31, 1885, when C. J. Phillips was Chief Engineer.[xl] It was accompanied by a pair of silver epaulettes—probably those attached to the cream broad cloth coat, with pearl buttons and scarlet collar-band, now in the Archives museum. Phillips was evidently partial to ornament, for the museum also possesses two silver speaking-trumpets that he had made when he was Assistant Engineer and Chief Engineer respectively. That inscribed “Chief Engineer” dates from 1880, and was thus described by the Colonist at that time:

“A few days since the Chief Engineer of the Fire Department received from the establishment of Messrs. Miller & Co., metallic workers, New York, a very handsome parade trumpet manufactured of heavily plated silver. The design of the insignia of office represents in well executed engraved work the various branches of the department apparatus, one portion being allotted to the steam and manual engines and another to the hose carriages and ladder trucks. On either side of the trumpet ladders reach almost to its top, coming in close contact with beautifully worked helmets through which silver cordings with golden tassels pass. The trumpet, of course, is only intended for use on special occasions. . . . And so it should be, for laid down here it cost the Chief Engineer nearly $75.[xli]

Why Phillips felt it necessary to order this trumpet is some what of a mystery, as the Department already possessed a hand some one donated fifteen years previously. The inscription reads: “Presented by J. S. Keenan late Chief Engineer V.F.D. to the Victoria Fire Department to be held by the Chief Engineer for the time being. 2nd October 1865.” We are told that upon occasion fire trumpets were used for other purposes than shouting directions. With the mouthpiece removed and the end stopped up with a cork, they became flagons of formidable capacity; and in addition, they made excellent weapons in a fight!

The printed constitutions of the Deluge and Tiger companies are amongst the rarest of early British Columbia imprints.[xlii] The active membership of the Deluge Company was limited to seventy, and that of the Tiger Company to sixty-five. Honorary membership might be conferred upon members who rendered distinguished service, persons whom the companies wished to honour, or (in the case of the Tiger Company) upon persons who contributed a stated sum to the maintenance fund. Life and contributing memberships might likewise be conferred upon those making annual donations. Active members of the Deluge Company paid an initiation fee of $1 and a monthly fee of $1 thereafter. Fines and penalties were imposed upon members who neglected their duties, and provision was made for their impeachment and expulsion in extreme cases. Candidates for membership in the Deluge Company were to be “voted for by ball ballot—three black balls excluding.” The Tiger Company strictly forbade “sectarian religion or party politics at any of its meetings.” As these notes suggest, the old volunteer companies were a curious combination of brotherhood, service club, and fire department.

A ceremonial parade was held by the three fire companies on May Day, and the affair was such a success that it became an annual event. The advance notice in the press indicates that the idea originated with the Union Company.

“The first parade of the Union Hook and Ladder Company will take place on Tuesday next [May 1, 1860]. The Tiger and Deluge engine companies having been invited, will also turn out, and take part in the parade. The Hook and Ladder Company will dress in their uniform—plain red shirt, black pants, and New York fire caps. The Tigers will appear in red shirts, trimmed with black velvet, black pants, and glazed caps. The Deluge Company in red shirts, with a blue badge, (on which will be inscribed the insignia of the company,) black pants, and glazed caps. The apparatus of the respective companies will be drawn by the members. The procession will march through the principal streets, headed by the excellent brass band from H.M.S. Topaze, and the pioneers or axemen, and also a number of boys as torch-bearers. During the afternoon, the firemen will be reviewed by His Excellency the Governor, at his residence across James’ Bay. . . .[xliii]

Elaborate accounts of the parade appeared in the Victoria newspapers. The description of the Deluge Company’s display is typical.

“This company mustered 59 men, and were headed by three pioneers, who wore blue shirts, trimmed with black velvet, black pants and blue cloth caps. A beautiful satin banner, on the front side of which was inscribed in gilt letters—” Deluge Engine Co. No. 1.”—with a representation of the Deluge in which appears the “Ark,” and the last of the human race outside of that “vessel of safety,” clinging to hill-tops, rocks, etc., and on the reverse: “Organized March 5th, 1860; We Strive to Save,” followed. . . . The engine was tastefully decorated with flags and wreaths. Over the air-vessel, a canopy of flowers was erected, within which was seated a pretty little girl of some six summers, representing the “May Queen.” Ten boys, carrying torches and flags, marched with this company. . . .[xliv]

A few days after the parade Douglas entertained a representative group of the volunteers at luncheon. His intentions were undoubtedly of the best, but the invitation list met with sharp criticism:

“by some singuler slight, usually construed in court circles to mean snubbing, only a portion of the original Fire Committee were invited. Then again, there were officers of the companies not invited, whilst high privates were honored by gubernatorial condescension. . . . His Excellency was merely enacting a state pageant in return for the Firemen’s display, and should not have made such an invidious discrimination. . .[xlv]

This distinctly petty fault-finding may have been indulged in because the vexed question of jurisdiction had once more reared its head. Exact dates and details are lacking, but it is clear that before May 1 the volunteer companies had organized themselves into a full-fledged fire department. Once again the model followed had been San Francisco, where “government of the department was intrusted to a chief engineer and assistants, and a board Of delegates, to consist of two representatives from each company, which officers were to be elected by the members [of the various fire companies)“[xlvi] Victoria’s first Chief Engineer was J. A. McCrea, of the Union Hook and Ladder Company; the Assistant Chief was Nathan Koshland, of the Tigers. McCrea and Koshland had marched at the head of the parade on May Day, but their status—and, indeed, that of the fire companies themselves —had not yet been recognized officially. Thus, when the firemen were preparing for the parade, the Deluge Company had wished to move its apparatus, but Edward Coker had sent word that it was to be left where it was. Highly indignant, the President of the Company wrote to Douglas. No reply having been received, he sought and secured an interview, at which Douglas told him that A. F. Pemberton, the Police Magistrate, was still the official Chief Engineer.[xlvii] This meant that Coker, in turn, was still the official Superintendent of Fire Engines.[xlviii]

This and much more came to light in June 1860, when the Bill which eventually became law as “An Act for the Protection of the Members of the Fire Companies of Victoria” was under debate in the House of Assembly. Alfred Waddington, a member of the Deluge Company, brought the question of jurisdiction to the fore, and the Attorney-General ruled that, since the fire engines were the property of the Colony (to which they had by this time been transferred by the Hudson’s Bay Company), Governor Douglas could do what he pleased about them. Distrust of the fire companies was evident throughout; their work was appreciated, but their future caused some uneasiness. Dr. Helmcken seems to have expressed a widely-held opinion when he said: “There is no doubt but these fire companies will end in political societies; but at present they are the most useful organizations in the colony.”[xlix] 

The “Fireman’s Protection Act,” as it was called, finally passed the House in July, and received the Governor’s assent on August 28, 1860. Its provisions were as limited as they well could be, since it did nothing except extend the barest minimum of legal protection to the town’s fire-fighters. To do this, how ever, it was necessary to recognize officially the existence of the volunteer companies and to provide for their registration. Once they were registered, a member could no longer be held “liable for damage done by him to the property of any other person, in the extinction, or attempted extinction, of fire, or in the removal of any erection, edifice, or building” that the safety of adjacent property made it “expedient to remove.” Uneasiness about the future of the volunteers may have been responsible for the fact that the life of the Act was limited to one year.

October 1 was the date chosen for the election of the Chief and Assistant Chief Engineers, and the contest proved to be close and exciting. McCrea sought re-election as Chief, and was opposed by John M. Thain and Edward Coker, both members of the Tiger Company. The real fight was between McCrea, who polled sixty-three votes, and Thain, who polled sixty-one. Coker received only one vote, doubtless because he had been involved in the difficulties over jurisdiction. It was evidently not due to personal unpopularity, for he was elected Foreman of the Tigers ten days later. The old Assistant Chief, Nathan Koshland, also won re-election, but he defeated J. S. Drummond by a single vote.[l] 

Evidence that the official status of the Fire Department was improving is found in the fact that the results of this election were referred to Douglas, and formally approved by him.[li] Indeed, only one further serious difference seems to have occurred over the question of official recognition. This arose in the spring of 1861, when McCrea not only had difficulty in securing any part of an appropriation of £150 that the Legislature had passed in 1860 to assist the firemen, but discovered that a goodly portion of it had been paid over to Coker without his knowledge or consent. Only the pleading of his friends kept McCrea from resigning in protest. Coker apparently used the money he received to pay debts outstanding from earlier days.[lii] 

By the time the “Fireman’s Protection Act” of 1860 was due to expire, the good behaviour of the volunteer companies, together with the strength and popularity of their organization, had finally won for them full legal recognition. The “Fireman’s Protection Act, 1861,” signed by Douglas on September 10, 1861, included the constitution of the “Fire Department of the Town of Victoria.” Some of the clauses read as follows:

“(2) The Fire Department shall consist of the existing Fire Companies and such other Companies as may be from time to time admitted pursuant to the By-Laws for the time being regulating the Department.

(3) The officers of the Fire Department shall consist of a Chief Engineer, and an Assistant Engineer, a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer.

(4) There shall be a Board of Delegates consisting of three persons from each company; the first Delegates shall be elected within seven days after the passage of this Act; the Delegates shall be afterwards elected annually on some day to be fixed by a By-Law.

(6) The Board of Delegates shall have the power of passing By-Laws for the regulation of the Fire Department, which, after the approval, in writing, of the Governor for the time being, shall be binding and conclusive on all members of the Fire Department.

The Chief and Assistant Engineers were to be elected by the vote of all the members, subject to the approval of the Governor. It will be noted that there was nothing new in these provisions; they simply recognized and gave legal status to the organization that was already in existence.

The Department at once set to work to draw up by-laws and regulations. These were of the most detailed description, and included provisions for a Charitable Fund, to be administered by three elected trustees. Constitution, by-laws, rules of order, and regulations were finally adopted by the Board of Delegates on November 6 and approved by Douglas on February 7, 1862.[liii]

Water-supply, finances, and new equipment were the chief worries of the volunteer, fire companies once their organization was completed.

For a surprisingly long period after the start of the gold-rush Victoria depended upon wells and wagons for its water-supply. Various projects were talked about, but nothing was actually accomplished until 1863, when the firm of Coe & Martin, which had been prospecting for water in the Spring Ridge area, sank an artesian well that produced a generous flow. The Spring Ridge Water Works Company was incorporated in 1864, its purpose being to pipe this water into the town. The mains were formed of 12-foot logs, bored out to a diameter of about 6 inches, and January buried with the bark on. As no hydrants were provided, this pioneer water system, which remained in use for about ten years, was of little or no assistance to the fire brigade. Indeed, it did not even solve the problem of a domestic water-supply, for as late as 1870 water was brought by schooner from Mill Stream and sold at the wharf to consumers.

Under the circumstances the town had to fall back on cisterns for protection against fire. Two of these were placed under contract by the Government in April 1859, but apparently only the one at the corner of Johnson and Store streets, which was paid for by public subscription, was actually constructed. The other was intended to be in Government Street.[liv] In March, 1860, the Colonist suggested that the chain-gang should be put to work “building a few more cisterns,” and added: “At present we have but two, and they, we fear, would not be very reliable in case of a fire.”[lv] The second cistern here referred to appears to have been in Waddington Alley. A month later the Grand Jury in its report urged “the pressing necessity for the construction of at least four more cisterns.” Its members pointed out that the town’s “efficient Fire Brigade . . . would be comparatively useless without a plentiful supply of water.”[lvi] In November a discussion in the Colonist revealed that there were by that time “two reservoirs on Waddington Alley, the one of large dimensions behind Mr. Harris’ butcher-store, the other a smaller one built by Mr. {J. Di Carroll, behind the Miner’s Restaurant.”[lvii] 

Work on a new cistern at the corner of Yates and Government streets commenced in January, 1861.[lviii] Two more—” one at the corner of Johnson and Government streets arid the other at the foot of Yates Street, near Wharf “—were begun in April, 1862, and completed in June.[lix] A month later the town’s cisterns were listed as follows in a report by John Dickson, then Chief Engineer of the Fire Department:



Yates and Wharf

32,000 gallons

Yates and Government

15,000,    “

Johnson and Government

32,000      “

Johnson and Store

17,000      “

Langley Street between Yates and Bastion

20,000      “


The combined capacity of the five cisterns was thus estimated at 116,000 gallons. As neither of the reservoirs in Waddington Alley is included, one must assume that they had fallen into disuse.[lx]

Another two cisterns were built in 1863, at a cost of $677. They were located at Government and Fort streets and Yates and Douglas streets respectively. Each had a capacity of 20,000 gallons, and the Chief Engineer estimated that the seven cisterns then in use could hold a total of 170,000 gallons.[lxi] An eighth reservoir appears on a later list, dated June 30, 1865. This was a 10,000-gallon tank built by Alfred Waddington in Waddington Alley. Through the years these cisterns required repairs and even rebuilding. Their rated capacities changed from time to time, but the total quantity of water available remained fairly constant.[lxii] They and their successors remained in use for many years, and ten were still in active service in 1886.[lxiii]

The volunteer companies were almost continuously in financial straits of one kind or another. In May 1861, one of their leaders stated that ordinary running expenses amounted to between $25 and $30 per member per annum. This sum the firemen themselves supplied, but new equipment or new buildings were usually beyond their means. Frequent recourse was had to public subscriptions, and the response was usually generous. In the fall of 1860, for example, the Tiger Company collected $500 in this way to help defray debts incurred when the Company was established.[lxiv] It was to the Government, however, that the volunteers looked most frequently for assistance, though the response was uncertain and spasmodic. In this respect both 1860 and 1861 were lean years, but in 1862 the Fire Department received no less than £1,000. True, the need was urgent, for the “Telegraph” engine that had been assigned to the Tigers was so worn and old that it might fail at any time, and the Department was dangerously short of hose. The first grants received were £150 for general expenses and £350 for cisterns and hose; both were paid in February 1862.[lxv] In May, a committee of the Board of Dele gates, consisting of J. A. McCrea and others, appealed to Douglas for an additional £1,100, of which £500 was intended to buy a new engine for the Tiger Company. In justification of this request they wrote to the Governor:

“We beg to represent to your Excellency, the necessity of immediate action in this matter, as our town is fast filling up with wooden buildings, and we are liable at any moment to a conflagration, that would be beyond the power of the Department, in its present condition to subdue.[lxvi]

In response to this appeal the House of Assembly appropriated £850, but only £500 of this was actually paid over.[lxvii] This was used for the purchase of a new engine for the Tigers. The order was placed through A. H. Titcomb, of San Francisco, and the machine supplied was a second-class hand-engine manufactured by Button & Blake, of Waterford, N.Y. It was described as having “a 7 inch stroke [and] 10 inch cylinder.”[lxviii] The engine arrived in Victoria in September, 1862,[lxix] and proved very satisfactory in service. The Tigers were elated, and the Chief Engineer noted in his report: “Their new apparatus answers every expectation, both as regards simplicity and convenience in getting into service and capacity of execution.”[lxx]

The next major requirement proved to be a new engine-house for the Deluge Company. For a time, the Company was without quarters of its own, and its engine was moved first to the Tiger house and then to the house of the Union Hook and Ladder Company. Finally, a lot on Yates Street, between Broad and Douglas streets, was leased for a ground-rent of $15 per annum, and an engine-house erected thereon at a cost of $1,787.[lxxi] “The front elevation,” the Colonist reported when it was nearing completion, “is very neat and appropriate, and the belfry which surmounts the building in excellent keeping with the rest of the design. The bell, procured from San Francisco by Mr. J. Drummond, the zealous foreman of the company, is now in position…[lxxii] The Deluge Company took possession, with due ceremony and celebration, towards the end of April 1863. Much of the cost of the building had been met by public subscription.[lxxiii]

Two first-class “jumpers” (as two-wheeled hose-carts were called) were acquired in 1863. These were built locally by Messrs. Bunting & Dodds, Yates Street; the price was $250 each. The first of the two was ready in September, and was viewed by an admiring reporter from the Colonist just before it was delivered to the Tiger Company: “It is a light and elegant little vehicle, combining at the same time great strength, and the taste displayed in the painting and gilding reflects the highest credit upon the manipulator.”[lxxiv] The second jumper went to the Deluge Company, and this new equipment enabled both companies to place their old and worn second-class hose-carts in semi-retirement.

New hose was urgently needed by the autumn of 1863. The best hose then available was made of leather, and in the reports of the Chief Engineers the Department’s supply was carefully rated according to its condition. Thus, in July 1863, the Department had 500 feet of good quality hose, 300 feet of second quality, and 400 feet of third, or 1,200 feet in all.[lxxv] The amount of good quality available was much too low for safety, and a year later an additional thousand feet (20 lengths of 50 feet each) were ordered through J. H. Titcomb. J. C. Keenan was then Chief Engineer, and he stated his needs with great precision in a letter to the Colonial Secretary. He would accept only Button & Blake hose of the “best quality of Leather, Double Riveted,” and he wanted it equipped with 2 ½ -inch butts (couplings), “New York Patent.” To avoid mistakes, Keenan went on to list the kinds of “objectionable Hose” that he did not want: “Gutta Percha, Web (wrapped in twine) Hemp, Canvass, California Hose, and a variety of single riveted Leather Hose. . . .“ Both the Colonial Secretary and Titcomb evidently did their best to oblige him, for the new hose was found to be of excellent quality when it arrived. The cost, however, was higher than expected—$2.12½ per foot, whereas previous shipments had been secured for $1.87 per foot.[lxxvi] 

Other important developments took place during these same years. On July 9, 1862, Douglas gave his assent to “An Act To Establish Fire Limits Within the Town of Victoria.” The limits designated—Johnson Street, Broad Street, Fort Street, and the harbour—indicate how small an area the business district covered at that time. (Douglas Street, for example, was still in a suburban area.) Within these limits the construction of large wooden buildings was prohibited; no new wooden structure could be more than one story or 18 feet in height.

In August 1862, the City of Victoria was incorporated; but as the Fire Department continued to function independently, this made little difference, except that modest grants seem to have been received now and then from the City Council. Of more immediate interest was the establishment of fire wards in December 1863, a step apparently taken at the suggestion of the Colonist, which commented as follows:

“We are glad to observe that the Fire Department have adopted our suggestion as to dividing the city into districts and indicating the locality of fires by striking the number of the ward on the alarm bells. The city proper has been divided into four wards, formed by the intersection of Government and Yates streets . . . After giving the alarm the bells will strike the number of the Ward slowly and distinctly. For fires outside of the city limits the bells will ring continuously.[lxxvii]

But the legislation that aroused most interest amongst the firemen was the “Fireman’s Protection Act, 1864,” to which Governor Kennedy gave his assent on July 7, 1864. In 1862—63 the membership of the volunteer companies had declined sharply. In January 1863, for example, the Deluge Company had only thirty-two members, the Tiger Company forty, and the Union Hook and Ladder Company thirty-seven, or a total of 109 in all. This was about thirty members less than the strength required for efficiency. The decline was not surprising, for the duties of the firemen could be tiresome, the expense of belonging to the Department was considerable, and the grants received from the Government were distinguished neither by generosity nor regularity. Turning once more to San Francisco for a model, the Victoria firemen asked that they, like their Southern brothers, should be granted exemption from jury duty. John Dickson, Chief Engineer, made the request in a report submitted to the Colonial Secretary in January 1863; and it is interesting to note that the original report bears a marginal note in Douglas’s hand writing expressing approval of the idea. A general election was held in the summer of 1863, and many of the members of the new House pledged themselves to support the measure. In December, however, the House decided that exemption should not apply to coroner’s inquests. Indignation amongst the firemen was great, for this service was, perhaps, the most irksome of all.[lxxviii] In spite of the most lively protests, nothing was done; but it may be significant that the new Fireman’s Act neither passed the Council nor received the Governor’s assent until after Kennedy had succeeded Douglas. In March 1864, it may be added, the Fire Department presented Douglas with a farewell address, and the three fire companies marched in full-dress parade to the Government buildings, preceded by the firemen’s brass band, to attend the ceremony.[lxxix]

One further provision of the Act of 1864 is of interest. It provided that, for the purposes of the Act, all the equipment of the three volunteer companies was to “be deemed . . . the property of the Victoria Fire Department, subject to the order and control of the Mayor and Corporation of the City of Victoria.” The change cannot have made any great difference in practice, for it was not until the Act was further amended, in 1873, that the Chief Engineer reported to the City instead of to the Government, and the Fire Department’s by-laws, and the results of its elections, had to be approved by the City instead of by the Governor.

The most complete account of the Fire Department available is that given in the report of J. C. Keenan, Chief Engineer, covering its operations for the year ended June 30, 1865.[lxxx] Quarters, personnel, equipment, cisterns, and finances are all dealt with in detail. The Deluge Company, with forty-two members, was housed in its new quarters on Yates Street. Its equipment consisted of the Hunneman engine purchased in 1858 (condition “passable”), the first-class “jumper” acquired in 1863, an old second-class hose-cart, and 750 feet of good quality hose. The Tiger Company, which had sixty members, still occupied a rented engine-house on Johnson Street, in which were housed its Button & Blake hand-engine, its new “jumper,” an old hose-cart, and 750 feet of hose. The Union Hook and Ladder Company, with thirty-nine members, occupied the house on Bastion Street completed early in 1860. The location of the building was no longer convenient, and as the Company did not own the site, Keenan was anxious to have the house moved elsewhere—a suggestion finally acted upon in 1870. In addition to its own hook and ladder apparatus, the Union Company was giving house-room to the old “Telegraph” engine, which was described as being in “useless” condition. The hose-supply is not specified, but as the Department as a whole possessed 2,200 feet, presumably the Union Company had 700 feet, condition “middling” to “bad.” The total membership of the Department was 141, as compared with 110 in July 1864; the increase was credited to the new Fireman’s Act, and the partial exemption from jury duty that it provided.

Seventeen fires had been dealt with in the course of the year. Not one had spread beyond the premises in which it had originated, and the total damage suffered was estimated at no more than $9,910. The Deluge Company was credited with “first water” on ten occasions, and the Tiger Company upon six. Buckets had proven sufficient at the remaining fire.

The smallness of the fire loss was remarkable, and Keenan seized the occasion to make a lively attack upon the insurance companies for their failure to admit their indebtedness to the Department and act accordingly:

“I beg to call your [the Colonial Secretary’s] attention respectfully to the fact that since my last report, there has been but one Insurance Policy paid by the Insurance Companies, and that the Companies who are realising immense profits, do not contribute (but voluntarily) towards maintaining the Fire Department, or assisting the various Fire Companies to meet the expenses attending their organization; on one occasion “The Royal Insurance Company” contributed Three Hundred Dollars ($300) The Liverpool and London contributed Fifty Dollars ($50) The London and Lancashire Insurance Company Fifty Dollars ($50) and The North British American & Mercantile One Hundred & Fifty Dollars ($150.) other Companies residing among us, and equally wealthy have Not contributed one Dollar, and as I am informed have even declined to do so when requested. That the Fire Department by their exertions and self sacrifice of time, and loss of apparel, have been the means of saving said Companies Thousands of Dollars is an indisputable fact; and I earnestly request that you will call the attention of His Excellency to the same, and to the notice of the Legislative Assembly recommending to the Honble Body the necessity of those Companies assisting by special appropriations towards the support of the Fire Department.

Not a great deal came of this appeal, but the names of various insurance companies do appear in the subscription lists circulated some years later.

The Department’s estimates for 1865 amounted to $4,000, but as only $3,000 was being made available by the Government, it had been necessary to postpone repairs, hold nothing in reserve, and pay the three stewards, who looked after the engine-houses, no more than $30 a month. Even so, rent and salaries alone amounted to $1,680 per annum. Keenan felt that support simply must be forthcoming upon a larger scale. For one thing, more equipment was urgently needed. The Deluge Company required a new engine, and the eight cisterns listed did not give sufficient protection to the town. For another, the time had come when the payment of salaries should begin, as the time and clothing that the officers were required to furnish amounted to more than they could well afford. Keenan suggested that the Chief Engineer should receive $500, the Assistant $300, and the Secretary of the Board of Delegates a like amount.

Instead of expansion, however, the Department was fated to experience great financial straits in the near future. The boom based on the great gold discoveries in the Cariboo was already declining. By 1866 times were definitely bad, and the years thereafter were a time of great depression. Instead of the $3,000 per annum to which it had become accustomed, the Department received nothing whatever from the Government in 1866. An appropriation of $1,000 was made in 1867, but as the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were by that time united, half the sum was paid to the New Westminster Fire Department. The Victoria Chief pointed out that as there were three companies in Victoria, and but one in New Westminster, a payment of $250 per company would have been a more equitable arrangement, but all in vain.[lxxxi] By August, 1868, the bud get had been pared down to $2,400, and the Department reported that it was “totally without funds.”[lxxxii] The lowest ebb was reached in February, 1869, when the Chief Engineer warned the Colonial Secretary that if some relief were not forthcoming “the department will be reluctantly compelled to disband.”[lxxxiii] This threat seems to have impressed the authorities, as a grant of $1,000 was paid over the same month.[lxxxiv]

In spite of their difficulties, the morale of the firemen remained high. In 1866 they set to work to repair the veteran “Telegraph” engine, to provide against an emergency.[lxxxv] Then in 1867— 68 the Tiger Company took to the war-path and raised sufficient money to enable them to purchase a steam fire-engine. Complete details are lacking, but we know that the Company themselves contributed $1,000, and an old note-book in the Provincial Archives lists public subscriptions totalling $1,471.50, most of which are marked off as having been paid. In view of Keenan’s remarks in 1865, it is interesting to find that the Royal Insurance Company is credited with having contributed $300, the Imperial Fire Insurance Company $200, the Builders’ Insurance Company $100, and the Phoenix Insurance Company $50. The Hudson’s Bay Company donated $50, while personal subscriptions included $50 from the Bishop of Columbia and $20 from Sir James Douglas.

The engine itself was manufactured by Button & Blake, of Waterford, N.Y., and two hand-written letters from L. Button to Frank Sylvester, then secretary of the Tiger Company, show that the head of the firm took a keen personal interest in the transaction. He believed the machine to be “as good a Steamer as ever was built,” and forwarded the most detailed instructions for its care and operation. The engine was shipped from New York in October and arrived in Victoria in December of 1868. Governor Seymour authorized the customs authorities to admit it duty free, and the Government contributed $750 towards its cost, which amounted in all to $4,005.40. Tests showed that it could be ready for action about eight minutes after the fire was lighted. With steam pressure at 120 lb. it could throw two streams of water about 140 feet, while at 80 lb. a single stream was thrown 200 feet.[lxxxvi]

The engine arrived a few weeks after one of early Victoria’s few serious fires. On November 4, 1868, the historic Hotel de France and the adjoining Lyceum Building, which together were insured for $15,200, were destroyed. A still more notable blaze followed in less than a year, for Christ Church was burned to the ground in October 1869. Its destruction recalled its remarkable escape in February 1861, when fire was discovered in the attic one Sunday during the morning service. While fighting this fire under the rafters, A. F. Pemberton, who at the time was still the official Fire Chief, broke through the plaster of the ceiling, and was only saved from crashing to the floor by the happy chance that his arms caught on the joists.[lxxxvii]

The Deluge Company was not content to lag behind the Tigers for long, and in 1869 they, too, determined to acquire a steam engine. Owing largely to the influence of Alfred Waddington, who contended that English engines had proven superior to American in tests, and were considerably cheaper into the bargain, it was decided to purchase a Merryweather engine in England. The order was placed through Sproat & Company, and the cost of the engine, including freight, fitting up, and testing, was $2,658.26. Public subscriptions, benefits, and the like, brought in $1,420, while the Victoria City Council voted $250. The balance, amounting to almost $1,000, was paid out of a loan advanced without interest by Captain Fleming. Details are not available beyond the point when this indebtedness was reported by the Deluge Steam Fire Engine Fund Committee to Governor Musgrave in November 1870, with an appeal for a grant of $750 to help clear the debt.[lxxxviii]  

The Deluge Company’s engine arrived in April 1870, and was immediately subjected to public tests.

“The whistle was blown at 3 minutes 1 second, 20 lbs of steam were raised in 9 minutes and water thrown. In 13 minutes, 30 seconds there were 60 lbs of steam, and with 100 lbs of steam two powerful streams of water were thrown through inch nozzles many feet—some estimate 40—above the St. Nicholas Hotel staff.[lxxxix]

This last detail is amusing, as the paper had recorded a couple of days before that the Tiger engine had thrown water 30 feet above the same flagpole![xc]  “Although not so showy or so highly finished as the Tiger engine,” the Deluge machine was “pronounced by competent engineers to be a fine and powerful engine.[xci]

To operate their new acquisitions the two companies formed a corps of amateur engineers, who were sufficiently trained to handle the steam-engines safely and efficiently. The original recruits were six in number: Joshua Davies, Emanuel Levy (who contributed a few paragraphs to Edgar Fawcett’s Reminiscences of Old Victoria,), E. A. McQuade, David James, Joseph Buell, and Charles Taylor.[xcii]

The arrival of the steam-engines, which much increased the efficiency of the Department, virtually brings to an end the story of the old volunteer companies in Colonial days. Though British Columbia did not become part of Canada officially until July 20, 1871, it was characteristic of the firemen that they should decide to hold a celebration on Dominion Day, July 1. The three companies duly assembled in dress uniforms, were reviewed by the Chief Engineer and his Assistant, and then marched to the residence of Dr. I. W. Powell, “who presented the Chief Engineer— representing the Fire Department—with a handsome Dominion flag.”[xciii] Dr. Powell, it may be added, had been surgeon of the Department, to which he gave his professional services free of charge, since August, 1863.[xciv]

A few remarks relating to somewhat later days will suffice to bring these notes to a close. Several developments of note occurred in 1873. It was in that year that an amended “Fireman’s Act” directed that hence forth the by-laws of the Board of Delegates, and the results of the firemen’s elections, required the approval of the City of Victoria, instead of the Governor. The “Victoria Water Works Act” paved the way for the modern water system of the present, and we read of hydrants for fire purposes being tested in 1877, and again in 1880.[xcv] Later records show that fifty-three hydrants had been installed by 1886.[xcvi] It was also in 1873 that the city limits of Victoria were extended—a development that immediately pointed to the necessity of using horses to haul the fire engines. At that time even the heavy steam fire-pumps were still being pulled to fires by hand, with the inevitable result that the firemen frequently arrived at a blaze in an exhausted state.[xcvii] Finally, it was in 1873 that the old “Telegraph” hand-engine, a veteran of San Francisco in the days of the Vigilance Committee and of the gold-rush in Victoria, was sold to Captain Raymur and taken to Burrard Inlet to protect the Hastings mill.[xcviii]

 The question of salaries became pressing in the seventies, and the recommendations made by J C. Keenan in his 1865 report were at last carried into effect. Modest allowances were provided for the Chief and Assistant Engineers and the Secretary of the Board of Delegates. Otherwise things continued much as before. Thus in 1877 an inventory of the Department’s equipment shows that the only items that had been added were a bucket truck carrying thirteen buckets, an extension ladder, and a Babcock fire-extinguisher.[xcix] In 1882 the Department had four paid officers, who received the following amounts per annum: Chief Engineer, $700; Assistant Chief, $300; Secretary, Board of Delegates, $300; Steward, $900. Engine-houses and equipment were valued in all at $35,000.[c]

The old spirit of rivalry and love of display continued to the end of the volunteer days. Thus in 1874 the Tiger Company acquired a monster new alarm-bell that weighed no less than 1,500 lb. It was brought from England and cost, duty paid, about $750. Another $250 was spent on the tower required to accommodate it.[ci] In 1879, when discussions about a paid department were taking place between the Department and the Council, the old spirit of independence appeared, and the Department made it clear that it was not prepared to consider any arrangements that involved the transfer of any of its equipment to the City.[cii] As late as 1881 the biennial election for Chief Engineer resulted in a hard-fought battle, and a lawsuit over the eligibility of certain of the Union Hook and Ladder Company’s voters preceded the contest.[ciii]

The inevitable happened, and the volunteers gave way to a paid fire department, as from January 1, 1886. In this first year there were twenty-six paid employees: the Chief Engineer and his Assistant, whose salaries continued to be $700 and $300 per annum respectively; three foremen, who received $16.25 per month; three engineers, who were paid $60 per month; and eighteen firemen (twelve hosemen and six hook and ladder men), who received $14 per month. Salaries thus amounted in all to somewhat less than $7,000 per annum, while the total expenditure of the Fire Department for the year was $14,759.20.




Deluge Company

Tiger Company

Union Hook and Ladder Company


1860 – May Day





1862 – July





1863 January










1864 – July





1865 – July





1866 – January





1867 – July





1868 – January










1869 – February







The figures for May Day, 1860, are taken from the account of the parade in the Victoria Colonist. All other figures are from the reports of the Chief Engineers, on file in the Provincial Archives. In September 1877, member ship in the Department was 195, which appears to be the record figure. In 1882 the total was 133, and in 1884, shortly before the volunteer companies gave way to a paid brigade, membership totalled 131.

(b.) ENGINEERS OF THE VICTORIA FIRE DEPARTMENT. The firemen’s elections were held annually, early in October, from 1860 until 1873, and biennially thereafter. The successful candidates in Colonial days were as follows:


Chief Engineer

Assistant Engineer


James A McCrea

Nathan Koshland


John Dickson

John Malowanski


John C. Keenan

J. S. Abbott


John C. Keenan

Henry Pickett


James S. Drummond

Thomas J. Burnes


John C. Keenan

Thomas J. Burnes


Samuel L. Kelly

John Kriemler


John Kriemler

John Vogel


John Kriemler

John Vogel


Simeon Duck

Frank G. Richards, Sr


Later Chief Engineers were: Frank G. Richards, Sr. (1871) ; William Lohse (1872; re-elected 1873) ; Joseph Wriglesworth (1875); Frank Saunders (1877); C. J. Phillips (1879; re-elected 1883, 1885) ; August Borde (1881).

The early Chief Engineers were for the most part vigorous and interesting personalities, and one wishes that we knew more about some of them. James A. McCrea was an auctioneer and commission agent; his advertisements will catch the eye of any one using the early files of the Colonist. He was much interested in sport. McCrea seems to have been an American by birth. His successor, John Dickson, was one by adoption. He claimed American citizenship in 1862, but we know that he was born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1827. Like several of the early Chiefs, he was a tinsmith and hardware dealer. In later years he became purser and part owner of the Stikine River steamer Glenora, and he died in Wrangel, Alaska, in June, 1875. John C. Keenan, another American, held office for three terms, and was referred to by the Colonist as being “the city’s favorite fireman.” He was proprietor of the Fashion Hotel, which, according to Edgar Fawcett’s Reminiscences of Old Victoria was “a first-class gambling house and dancing hall. High play was the order, and many a Cariboo miner in the winter months threw away his easily-got gold by the hundreds here.” Keenan died in Victoria about June 1, 1869. Like Dickson, James S. Drummond was a hardware dealer, and so was Samuel L. Kelly, who was listed in one of the early directories as a “tinsmith and coppersmith.” Kelly was still living in 1910. John Kriemler was a native of Switzerland who was in Victoria as early as 1862. He was the partner of Joseph Spratt in the foundry and machine-shop that grew into the Albion Iron Works. Later he went to Germany, where he died in June 1889. Simeon Duck was born in St. Catherines, Ontario, in 1834, and came to British Columbia in 1859. After a brief try at gold-mining he settled in Victoria and founded a wagon and carriage factory. He is reputed to have built the first wagon made in Victoria and supplied most of the vehicles used on the Cariboo Road in its most colourful days. He was elected to the Legislature in 1872 and served briefly as Minister of Finance in 1885—6. Two other early names deserve notice. Thomas J. Burnes, elected Assistant Chief in 1865 and 1866, was Acting Chief Engineer for a time in 1867. He arrived in Victoria in May 1858, and after a long career as a hotel-keeper entered the Customs service. Edward Coker, the Chief appointed by Governor Douglas before the volunteer companies were fully organized and officially recognized, described himself in 1867 as a “ship and steamboat smith,” and advertised his readiness to manufacture boilers, iron doors, and fireproof vaults.

[i] Indenture between George H. Hossefross and Truett, Jones & Arrington, San Francisco, July 14, 1858. MS., Archives of B.C.

[ii] Report of John C. Keenan, Chief Engineer, Victoria Fire Department, to the Colonial Secretary, August 31, 1865. MS., Archives of B.C.

[iii] Victoria Gazette, July 29, 1858.

[iv] On the organization of the Monumental Company see Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, and James Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco . . ., New York, 1855, pp. 621—2. The Monumental Company’s bell was used to call together the famous Vigilance Committee. On Hossefross see ibid., pp. 616—8, 621; also Mary Floyd Williams, History of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1851, Berkeley, 1921, p. 199. On the organization of San Francisco fire companies generally see Pauline Jacobson, City of the Golden ‘Fifties, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1941, pp. 45—77, 85—109.

[v] Details from invoice dated San Francisco, July 20, 1858. MS., Archives of B.C. In Keenan’s report for 1865 (see note 2, supra) the diameter of the cylinder is given as 7 inches. Engines were rated as first-, second-, or third-class according to the size and capacity of their pumps.

[vi] Kenneth Holcomb Dunshee, Enine!-EnjineI A Story of Fire Protection, New York, 1939, p. 12. The “more extensive study” -that was intended to follow this most interesting brochure seems not yet to have been published.

[vii] Details from the invoice, July 20, 1858 (see note 5, supra).

[viii] The rods or bars by means of which the hand-engines were operated.

[ix] Victoria Gazette, July 29, 1858.

[x] Ibid., July 31, August 3, 1858.

[xi] Soulé, Gihon, and Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco, pp. 615—6.

[xii] Victoria Gazette, January 15, 1859.

[xiii] Victoria Colonist, August 17, 1859, in which are noted contracts reported the day before to the House of Assembly. These included: March 1, Trial shaft for cistern, $52; April 9, Cistern on Store Street, $400; April 4, Cistern on Government Street, $341.40.

[xiv] Ibid., June 15, 1859.

[xv] Victoria Gazette, October 15, 1859.

[xvi] Victoria Colonist, October 19, 1859.

[xvii] Ibid., October 19, 1859.

[xviii] Ibid., October 19, 24, 1859.

[xix] Ibid., October 24, 1859.

[xx] Ibid., October 31, 1859.

[xxi] Ibid., November 4, 7, 1859.

[xxii] Ibid., November 23, 1859.

[xxiii] Ibid., December 22, 1859.

[xxiv] Ibid., December 27, 1859.

[xxv] The original lease, dated December 23, 1859, is in the Archives of B.C.

[xxvi] Victoria Colonist, January 12, 1860.

[xxvii] Keenan to Colonial Secretary, August 31, 1865. MS., Archives of B.C.

[xxviii] Balance-sheet of the General Committee of the Fire Department. Victoria Colonist, May 3, 1860.

[xxix] Ibid., February 28, 1860.

[xxx] Ibid., March 24, 1860.

[xxxi] This was the date embroidered on the Company’s banner; see, for example, ibid., May 3, 1860, and May 2, 1861. On the other hand, a letter from J. D. Churchill, the Company’s Secretary, to the Colonial Secretary, states that the date of organization was March 15. MS., Archives of B.C.

[xxxii] Victoria Colonist, March 22, 1860

[xxxiii] Ibid., March 29, 1860.

[xxxiv] Churchill to Douglas, April 10, 1860. MS., Archives of B.C.

[xxxv] Churchill to the Colonial Secretary, April 12, 1860. MS., Archives of B.C.

[xxxvi] Victoria Colonist, March 24, 29, April 5, 1860.

[xxxvii] Ibid, April 19, 1860.

[xxxviii] Dunshee, Enjine!—Enjine! p. 27.—Quoted by kind permission of the Home Insurance Company.

[xxxix] Victoria Colonist, April 28, 1860. A later item states that the height of the staff was 96 feet.

[xl] Williams’ British Columbia Directory, 1892, Victoria, 1892, p. 1119.

[xli] Victoria Colonist, December 4, 1880.

[xlii] In the Provincial Archives are copies of the following: Constitution and By-laws of Deluge Company, no. 1, Victoria, Vancouver Island, Victoria, 1863; and Constitution and By-laws of the Tiger Engine Company no. 2, of Victoria, V.I., Victoria, 1861.

[xliii] Victoria Colonist, April 28, 1860.

[xliv] Ibid., May 3, 1860. The other two companies soon acquired banners to rival that carried so proudly by the Deluge Company. A white and blue silk banner was presented to the Union Hook and Ladder Company by the ladies of Victoria on June 23, 1860; and on May 1, 1861, before the May Day parade, the Tiger Company marched to the residence of Thomas Harris and there received from Miss Agnes Douglas, daughter of the Governor, a handsome banner decorated with the likeness of a large Bengal tiger and the motto: “ Our Aim, the Public Good.” See ibid., May 2, 1861.

[xlv] Ibid., May 8, 1860.

[xlvi] Soule’, Gihon, and Nesbit, The Annals of San Francisco, p 616.

[xlvii] See report of the debate in the House of Assembly, Victoria Colonist, June 26, 1860.

[xlviii] This was the title used by Coker himself when signing a letter printed in the Colonist, October 21, 1859. He there states that “the entire [fire-fighting] apparatus has been placed in my charge.”

[xlix] Ibid., June 26, 1860

[l] J. S. Drummond to R. F. Pickett (Secretary of the Board of Dele gates), October, 1860; MS., Archives of B.C. Victoria Colonist, October 2, 1860.

[li] Ibid., October 30, 1860.

[lii] Ibid., March 23, 1861.

[liii] See the Constitution, By-laws, and Rules of Order of the Victoria Fire Department Victoria, Vancouver Island, B.C., Victoria, 1873; and the report of J. S. Drummond, then Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, January 30, 1866. MS., Archives of B.C.

[liv] See note. 13, supra.

[lv] Victoria Colonist, March 27, 1860.

[lvi] Ibid., April 14, 1860.

[lvii] Ibid., November 1, 1860.

[lviii] Ibid., January 16, 1861.

[lix] Ibid., April 25, June 24, 1862. Cost of the two was “about $1,400.”

[lx] John Dickson, Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, July 30, 1862. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxi] Dickson to the Colonial Secretary, January 31, 1863. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxii] The eight cisterns are listed in the report of J. C. Keenan, Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, covering the year ended June 30, 1865. Their total capacity is given as 180,000 gallons.

[lxiii] Edward Mallandaine, The British Columbia Directory . . . 1887, Victoria, 1887, p. 6.

[lxiv] Victoria Colonist, August 31, September 4, 1860.

[lxv] See Colonial Secretary to John Dickson, February 1, 1862, and to J. A. McCrea, February 15, 1862. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxvi] McCrea and others to Douglas, May 20, 1862. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxvii] For the appropriation see Victoria Colonist, July 23, 1862; for the payment, Dickson to the Colonial Secretary, August 7, 1862, and marginal note thereon. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxviii] It would seem as if this might be an error for a 7-inch cylinder with a 10-inch stroke. The details are from Keenan’s report to the Colonial Secretary, August 31, 1865. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxix] Victoria Colonist, September 17, 1862.

[lxx] Dickson to the Colonial Secretary, report covering the year ended July 31, 1863. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxi] Keenan’s 1865 report; see note 68, suprct.

[lxxii] Victoria Colonist, April 1, 1863.

[lxxiii] Ibid., April 23, 1863.

[lxxiv] Ibid., September 8, 1863.

[lxxv] Dickson to the Colonial Secretary, report for the year ended July 31, 1863. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxvi] J. C. Keenan to Henry Wakeford, acting Colonial Secretary, July 27, 1864; November 18, 1864. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxvii] Victoria Colonist, December 12, 1863.

[lxxviii] Ibid., December 11, 1863.

[lxxix] Ibid., March 11, 1864.

[lxxx] The report, the original of which is in the Provincial Archives, is actually dated August 31, 1865.

[lxxxi] S. L. Kelly, Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, January 15, 1868. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxii] Same to same, August 18, 1868. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxiii] J. Kriemler, Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, February 3, 1869. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxiv] Kriemler to the Colonial Secretary, January 28, 1869; and the Colonial Secretary’s reply, February 11, 1869. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxv] J. S. Drummond, Chief Engineer, to the Colonial Secretary, January 30, 1866. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxvi] For the tests see Victoria Colonist, December 21, 1868. Some details of the cost of the engine may be of interest. The first item on the account was: “Bill of Engine at Factory in New York $3900.00 in Green backs which equals in cash $2847.00.” Freight charges from New York to San Francisco were $642.55, and from San Francisco to Victoria $121.20. Collection charges were $24.40, expenses of fitting up $60, and “contingent expenses” $310.25. The Tigers greeted the engine with such exuberance that the celebration cost $390.62; of this $150 was for the dinner and $147.75 for liquor!

[lxxxvii] Ibid., February 19, 1861.

[lxxxviii] See the letter from the Committee to Musgrave, November 3&, 1870. MS., Archives of B.C.

[lxxxix] Victoria Colonist, April 26, 1870.

[xc] Ibid., April 24, 1870.

[xci] Ibid., April 17, 1870, reporting the first trials of the engine.

[xcii] Ibid., July 27, 1870.

[xciii] Ibid., July 2, 1871.

[xciv] Ibid., August 24, 1863.

[xcv] Ibid., December 29, 1877; March 24, 1880.

[xcvi] Mallandaine, British Columbia Directory, 1887, p. 6.

[xcvii] See the interesting comment in the Victoria Colonist, August 9, 1873.

[xcviii] Ibid., October 25, 1873.

[xcix] Report of J. Wriglesworth, Chief Engineer; printed in ibid., September 13, 1877.

[c] R. T. Williams, British Columbia Directory, 1882, Victoria, 1882, p. 89.

[ci] Victoria Colonist, August 6, December 18, 1874.

[cii] Ibid., May 28, 1879.

[ciii] Ibid., October 4, 1881.