How forest fires shaped the history of Timmins – by Karen Bachmann (Timmins Daily Press – March 19, 2016)

You cannot talk about the history of Northern Ontario without talking about forest fires and their impact on the development of the region.

The Great Porcupine Fire of 1911 almost wiped out the entire Ontario gold mining industry in one day; fortunately, the early investors and residents of the camp were made of stronger stuff and they chose to remain here and rebuild (and they most certainly reaped the rewards of their decisions!).

Lesson learned: there is no escape route once the rail lines are destroyed.  Fast forward to 1916 – yet again, the north is threatened with huge forest fires, and Timmins, although not in the thick of it, certainly did not come out clean.

Twenty homes were destroyed just west of the Mountjoy township line; luckily, the flames did not reach the downtown. However, the big story of that year was the huge fire that took out Cochrane, Matheson, Kelso, Nushkah (Val Gagne), Ramore and all points in between.

The fires all started in earnest on Saturday, July 29th; according to the Porcupine Advance reporter who went into the fire zone on Sunday via a T&NO rail car, “Cochrane is in ruins, Matheson is laid flat, save for the flag pole on the station garden plot.” He also reported that he “visited several scenes where there was not a stick the size of a man‘s arm left to mark their former sites.”

Relief work out of the Porcupine took hold with a train to Porquis Junction; Drs. Hainey and Widdifield delivered medical supplies to Dr. Mahoney in Iroquois Falls. Using a hand car, they proceeded along the line southwards and delivered much needed aid to the victims in Matheson, Montieth and Nushka; they worked for hours on end tending to the wounded who wandered in from the bush where they had fled.

On Monday morning, another train left the Porcupine with emergency supplies rounded up by local residents including Mayor Wilson, Reverend Allan, Dr. McInnis, Rev. Patterson, Lt. Kennedy, Tom King, Jack Dalton, Charles Pierce, J. Myers and K.F. Delong. Godfrey Proulx also went along with the rescue team as he had received word that his brother, sister-in-law and three nephews had lost their lives on their farm just outside of Cochrane.

The stories collected by those relief workers were heartbreaking; as the train pulled into Porquis, the women and children who had borne the strain well, broke down once they realized they were safe. Every refugee the Timmins men encountered had lost at least one family member.

Rev. Allan came upon one young girl who had lost all 22 members of her family; he brought her to Timmins and found her a home in the community. Mrs. Smith and her daughter collapsed on the train platform, clearly exhausted by their ordeal; the young girl hugged her little fox terrier, the only thing they could save from their home.

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