June 9, 1846
The origin of the fire, which broke out on June 9, 1846, in St. John’s, has generally been attributed to the carelessness of a cabinet maker who lived on George Street.
By 7:00 p.m., when the fire had finally run its course, over 2,000 buildings had been burned and about 12,000 people, or 57 per cent of the town’s total population, left homeless. The total amount of property loss was estimated at £888,356. Altogether, there were three casualties: one soldier died as a result of the demolition ordered on Water Street; one citizen collapsed while attempting to carry his possessions to safety; and one prisoner died in his cell when the gaol burnt. A few days after, two labourers clearing away ruins were killed by a falling wall.
Homeless Seek Shelter
On June 10, 1846 many of the 12,000 refugees from the fire could be found in make shift tents in this neighborhood (Fort Townshend) now the site of The Rooms. Others found shelter on the grounds of the new R.C. Cathedral (now Basilica) that was under construction, others in the area now called Bannerman Park on Military Road.
One of the Presentation Sisters who stood witness as her convent and school (located on Long’s Hill) burnt wrote:
“the ruins of our convent (and St. John’s) were well watered with their tears.”
In the days following the fire the traditional resilience of Newfoundlanders was well displayed. One of those present described the scene:
“The very next morning some of the citizens were at work excavating among the ruins of their dwellings and preparing to erect temporary sheds, thousands were ruined, but everyone there was hopeful, determined that St. John’s would rise again …”
Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type Fire in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives
Recommended Reading: The Great St. John’s Fire of 1846 by Melvin Baker (c)1983 Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXIX, no. 1 (Summer 1983) http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~melbaker/1846fire.htm
Recommended Archival Collection at the Provincial Archives in the Rooms: MG 50.2: Map of St. John’s, Newfoundland, showing all the buildings erected since the fire of the 9th of June 1846 from actual survey (MG 50.2)