April 11th of next year will mark 100 years since a devastating fire swept through Vermilion.
According to the book ‘Vermilion Memories II’, the fire destroyed 28 stores and 38 business firms. It burned from 3 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning on April 11, 1918.
It was recorded that over $350,000 worth of property was burned in the heart of the business district and that while insurance was carried, the loss involved was heavy.
Like many other communities on the prairies in the early years of the 20th century, Vermilion experienced an extensive fire.
Vermilion Heritage Museum Vice-Chairman Tom Kibblewhite says that the Museum is preparing for the 100th anniversary of the fire next year.
“We are planning to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the fire, we hope to do something with the Fire School, but nothing has been decided as of yet,” said Kibblewhite.
“The fire wiped out the heart of the business district in the town. The losses were high because everybody had their spring stock on the shelves.
At that time my father was going to school at the old brick school in the east end of town. They turned the school children loose and classes were canceled. My father and some of his classmates were put on duty stomping out the grass fires. All of the buildings in town were built with cedar shingles, and when they started to burn the cedar shingles lifted up, landed and started grass fires. There was a high wind blowing that day and it was a dry April, with no great grass.
My father said they could hear bullets hitting the wall of the freight shed where the ammunition was exploding, and that was a big problem for the firefighters. Everybody had guns in those days and the hardware stores were stocked with ammunition.
Firefighters and equipment were called from Mannville and Lloydminster; and they arrived on special trains because it was the fastest way they could get here,” said Kibblewhite.
Craig’s Department store in Vermilion was one of the buildings that burnt down. Craig’s Owner John Stewart said that nothing survived the fire at Craig’s.
The Fire Aftermath On 49th Avenue
The old Alberta Hotel is the three-story white building pictured on the right of the photograph. Today you would be standing at the Elk’s Hall looking towards Farm Credit Canada. Photo courtesy of the Vermilion Heritage Museum.
“The fire started in the Elk’s Hall as far as I remember people saying. The only two buildings left standing were located at Jack’s Barber shop, and where the Grace Asian Mart Filipino shop is located today. Everything else was gone. The old Vermilion brick company supplied a lot of bricks to re-build the town afterwards. We made sure to re-build with brick instead of wood,” said Stewart.