The Fire of 1846

Unfortunately, St. John’s has suffered several major fire events since its founding. Many homes and structures in the city were connected, or at least in close proximity, and nearly all were constructed largely with wood; this arrangement created the perfect conditions for devastating fires.

The Great St. John’s Fire of 1846, by Melvin Baker, is a fascinating narrative of the 1846 fire that destroyed three quarters of the city. It originally appeared in the Newfoundland Quarterly vol. LXXIX, no. 1 (Summer 1983), and can be read here. The catalyst was a cabinet maker on George Street who forgot a pot of glue on his stove, which boiled over to begin the tragic event. In an effort to prevent the fire from advancing, Governor John Harvey blew up a building, but gunpowder from the explosion rained down on nearby structures. The fire grew.

A map demonstrating the extent of the fire is available through Memorial University’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies digital archive initiative. Incredibly, the property on which our house stands was spared by a mere twenty feet! The map offers amazing insight on the former landscape of St. John’s, and the resolve of its inhabitants for rebounding from such circumstances.

Would your property have been spared from the blaze??

The Great St. John's Fire of 1846 (Standage & Co, 1851). The digital document available at the link above allows for magnification, and is much more detailed!

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