The Daily Press is the newspaper of record for the city of Timmins. Karen Bachmann is the director/curator of the Timmins Museum and a local author.
Ceremony at Deadman’s Point on Monday will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Porcupine Fire
I could recount the history of the Porcupine Fire for you today, but I have chosen not to do so. Why hear it from me, when you can hear what it was like from the people who actually survived that fateful day.
Thanks to the early work of the Porcupine Camp Historical Society, we have wonderful recordings of our early pioneers, and their memories of what life was like in the Porcupine.
So, today, I keep my ideas to myself, and I’ll let those in the know tell you about the Great Porcupine Fire of 1911. Elizabeth Pearl Heath was a survivor that day. She was a young married woman in July 1911.
“The fire did bear down on us speedily and with fury. I made sure that my billfold was in my patchpocket of my skirt, threw my knapsack and a light blanket over my shoulder and struck out for the lake.
“The astounded yell ‘Sunny’ halted me. My husband appeared beside me and caught me by the hand and together we raced the flames down to the lake. We stumbled to the shore, we found the last boat taking the people to Golden City had been sent before, but another boat came along, and sorely against their better judgment they took us both and we got started.
“Behind us many men were left in the water to protect themselves as best they could. Several rods from the shore we passed a large Newfoundland dog and her puppies. All of their forepaws were resting on a good sized pole, washed about and borne along by the waves.
“Every once in awhile a tired little puppy would lose its grip, but the vigilant mamma would see that the paws were restored to their place.
“A downpour of rain finally drowned out the burning and we could return to what remained of our homes. One little thing that cheered us up considerably was the appearance of the Newfoundland mother with her pups, ambling along and searching for food.”
Roger Darke, was a young man working at a place called Central Porcupine Camp, about eight miles from South Porcupine when the fire stuck.
He remembers that “there was a carload of dynamite standing just between South Porcupine and Golden City, and it caught on fire and the explosion was terrible. It tore the railroad tracks apart, just the way you would bend a piece of tin.
“The Philadelphia Mine had three carloads of dynamite stored away and it was just three miles from our camp and it exploded. Say I thought the world had come to an end. It threw everybody flat on their faces in the camp.”
J. R. Andrews was a young prospector in the Porcupine who told the following story: “Vesty Kennedy, father of the local public school system ran the Iroquois Hotel after the fire, and before the days of professional hockey, sponsored and perhaps fed a good hockey team.
“I remember Kennedy, the day of the fire; he put his family in a boat at the wharf in South Porcupine and as the boat drifted off, the propeller struck a log and fell off; the boat drifted away into the smoke.
“No one could see what happened to it and Kennedy himself jumped into a canoe and went around the North side of the lake, which was the most sheltered from the wind, and went to Porcupine.
“When he got to Porcupine (Golden City) he met Jack Crawford on the beach and Jack told him ‘I just saw your family at the pump house, they are all fine.'”
Pearl Crawford O’Day was a little girl (10 years old) at the time of the fire. Her family had just moved into their new house when the fire struck.
“We were doing our chores around the house and Dad came rushing and told us to get to the water as soon as we could. Dad had the men bury blankets and cooking utensils and things like that. He said that if we were spared, we would need them.
“Meantime, we all piled into a rowboat but we couldn’t leave because Mother wouldn’t let the cook move the boat until Dad got there. We didn’t bring any food or anything with us. We came just as we were, but Mother brought a box of Seidletz Powders that was on the shelf as she figured she’d have a headache later on.
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