Part 14 – [Geraldton : An Alternative History]

Geraldton’s first Fire Brigade in 1937 with Gene Ricard as Captain. Note the natty dress of volunteers and the manually operated pumps. Photo shows the base of the water tower behind the Geraldton Hotel. All photos from Greenstone History Collection.


By 1936 there was a definite need for a water supply. Until
then, people got their water from [communal] wells and deposited
their waste in open ditches. Joe Errington installed the first
water distribution system under the name Geraldton Waterworks
Company. There was a small wooden [500-gallon] water tank behind
the Geraldton Hotel that served a few business clustered around
that area of town. Water was drawn from a small creek to fill
the tank. The cost of water was determined according to the number
of taps in the dwelling. One tap cost $2.00 per month[;] a full
bathroom cost $4.50 per month. In some cases there was more than
one house on a lot, and the second and sometimes the third
house was serviced for water by a garden hose; this became
known as The Mickey Mouse Water Service. The first house paid
for water and the others were [freeloaders. Some] people had
free water service for years without making any payments. Usually
the extra houses on the lot were owned by the person paying for
the water service and rented to [tenants].

Geraldton’s first drinking water, summer 1935, from a “creek on Main Street”. Author’s comment: The creek had to be the one locally named S–t Creek, and which my late mother euphemistically called Tish Creek. The creek ran east near McKenzie Street and dumped into an arm of Barton Bay, Kenogamisis Lake. From the 1950s, I recall its disagreeable smell and its unsavoury looks. It used to receive all the sewage from open ditches and holding tanks. By 1970, the effluent was redirected to the new sewage treatment plant on Clarke Avenue East. The creek was then officially named Hardrock Creek.

In December 1936 a fire destroyed the Windsor Hotel, Picard’s
Tailor [Shop], Ruttan’s Beauty [Parlor], Geraldton Cafe and
Daneff’s Store. The fire alarm for those sleeping in the buildings
was the blowing of car horns. Buckets of snow were all the volun-
teers had with which to fight the fire. Little Long Lac [mine] fire crew
arrived with their equipment, but, the lack of water made all
efforts futile. It appeared as if the entire community might be
destroyed and a CNR train was dispatched to Geraldton in case
there had to be an evacuation. Many people lost all their belongings
and the merchants who managed to save some merchandise
from the fire were [victimized] by looters.

Aftermath of Daneff’s fire on the morning of December 23,1936. Note the stack of firewood, the only heating source in those days, and the tar paper siding of the building. See Part 5 for the photo of the buildings before the fire, and the sidebar.

The consequences of the poor fire protection were evident
when the [smouldering] ruins were viewed in the cold bleak dawn.
The Volunteer Fire Department was formed shortly after the
[disastrous] fire ,but, unfortunatley not [before] the group that
had been formed a few days previous to the fire had time to
get organized. A committee of Leonard Dreany, Foster Draper and
George Garner set about to [organize] a Fire Department.
A bucket brigade was formed , a siren purchased and installed
on top of the Geraldton Hotel. A series of entertainments [were]
planned, similar to an amateur night. The Strand [Theatre] was opened
each Sunday evening for this purpose and after one concert the
collection [totalled] $47.37[,] a tidy sum in those days. A piano
was purchased to assist with the [fund-raising] concerts. The first
purchase of fire equipment was a reel and some hose. The reel
was a [2-wheeled] vehicle which could be hooked on the bumper of
any passing car or truck[;] it carried the hoses, and the fire
volunteers ran [alongside]. There is a saying[,] ” The Geraldton
Volunteer Fire Department have lost some buildings and one
fire hydrant[,] but, they have never lost a lot.”

Members of the First Volunteer Fire Department were
J. Rickard- Chief; T. Velanoff, C. Gatien, J. Gatien, R. Chailton,
E. Assad, P. Bernier, R. Gatien, M. Kearns and R. Larocque (sic,
spellings and names differ in the official history, p. 160).

A sidebar . . .

3 thoughts on “Part 14 – [Geraldton : An Alternative History]

  1. So nice to hear what really happened when Geraldton 1st started ! My sister Miriam Roy lived behind the water tower in 1957 or so, then moved to Caramat Road before moving to Long Lac . My other sister Mary Safroniuk lived in the Borden Block in 1957 .Thanks for the interesting reading!


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