The great Toronto fire of 1904
Much is made of the structures that have been lost to demolition over the years in Toronto, but poor planning and a lack of respect for historical buildings isn't the only culprit to contribute to this city's diminished heritage standing. As much as such factors may have implicitly played a role in the recent lost of the former Empress Hotel at Yonge & Gould, the vehicle of that building's destruction — namely fire — has its own history of destruction. And it was exactly 107 years ago today, that Toronto witnessed the biggest blaze of them all.
At 8:04 p.m. on April 19th, 1904 (107 years ago today) a police constable on patrol in downtown Toronto reported the sight of flames shooting skyward from the Currie Building, which was located at 58 Wellington (near where the current TD Centre now sits). Spreading rapidly, by 4:00 a.m. an area of approximately 20 acres was destroyed by flames. To put that into some perspective, Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York City, is about 16 acres.
It could have been much worse. Because the fire started after regular work hours, the affected area was virtually empty. In fact, though it's hard to believe, there were no fatalities associated with the blaze. It's also somewhat remarkable, given the inferno it was reported to be at its height, that the blaze didn't spread further north and and east. Credit goes to the over 250 firefighters — some of whom travelled from Hamilton and Buffalo to help — for saving other areas along King and Yonge streets from being engulfed by the flames.
- $10 million in property damages (in 1904 dollars!)
- 5000 jobs lost
- 20 acres destroyed
- Over 250 firefighters fought the blaze
- 9.5 and 11 million litres of water were used to douse the flames
- 5 injuries (the most serious of which was a broken leg)
- 9hrs total duration
Bay Street looking north before the fire (1903)
Bay Street looking north after the fire (1904)
Bay Street looking north at Wellington
Bay Street looking southwest (Old Union Station in the background)
The aftermath as seen from the roof of the Queen's Hotel
Front and Bay streets
Front looking west from near Yonge Street
The City Engineers album
- City of Toronto Archives web exhibit on the Fire of 1904
- Companies and buildings affected
- Ontario Archives web exhibit
Lead photo from the Ontario Archives. All subsequent images from the Toronto Archives.