Student Museum Musings: The Oshawa Fire Department Fonds

By Christine G., Summer Student

Hello again everyone! I hope you are all enjoying this summer as much as I am. As you learned from my last blog post, I have been working with a recent donation from the Oshawa Fire Department (OFD). As a quick update on how far along we are with this donation: we have digitized, catalogued, and accessioned almost all of the photos from the collection and have organized all of the newspaper clippings. There have been so many interesting files, photos, articles, and information.

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One of the most interesting files that I have come across is an arson investigation file. The file is extensive in demonstrating how an arson investigation works as well as demonstrating the damage done. Since I found this file so interesting, I thought I would share the story with all of you. Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

In the early morning hours of December 4, 1988, the Oshawa Fire Department got a call for a fire at a building located at 184 Bond St. W. as it was smoking. This was not uncommon seeing as they are the City’s fire department, but this call would be different from their routine calls. It would come to light during the Department’s efforts to put out the fire that this was not an accidental fire. Faulty wiring, overheated electronics, or any of the other normal causes of fires did not cause this fire. 184 Bond St. W. was destroyed by arson.

However, before I get too far ahead of myself let us start at the beginning. A waitress at a restaurant called “The Warehouse” initially spotted the fire. The fire was then called into the OFD by her co-worker at 2:03 am. The first fire trucks arrived on the scene at 2:04 am – only one minute later, but by that time the fire was already out of control and firefighters could not safely enter the building. The OFD reports note that the fire continued to spread rapidly due to the combustible nature of both the building and the contents.

The reports from responding personnel indicate that the smoke level was heavy and a dark grey. The reports also indicate that there was a large volume of flames for the type of fire. Initial reports also state that the front window had been broken in with a garbage pail and that the main west central entrance doors were unsecured and open upon arrival. While the OFD was fighting the fire, fire fighters were approached by a man who indicated that he had seen the start of the fire at about 2 am and saw a smoking garbage can that he then removed before going over to The Warehouse and learning that the fire department had already been called.

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While investigating a woman came forward regarding two men that she observed while shopping in Wallpaper City that she said did not appear to be customers. She thought that the two men might have been casing the building as they were opening other doors and inspecting the area. The woman also saw them enter another store – Bernie’s Cameras – while she was working four days later and found it suspicious that the two men did not buy anything or talk to anyone except each other.

The fire investigation file also contains a note that there was another arson investigation at the location six years before. There is no other information on this fire, but it does make you wonder as you read the file if the two arsons were connected…

The damage done by the fire was extensive. The damage to the building was $300 000 and the lost and damaged contents of the buildings were $500 000. The total damage was $800 000 which in today’s world would have been over $1 500 000. Much of the building was lost in the fire as were the contents of the buildings. Stores lost their entire inventories, as well as losing their store space.

The amount of damage that a single fire can bring is not small and cannot always be measured monetarily. Lives can – and often are – lost, businesses destroyed, livelihoods threatened, senses of safety and security shattered and so much more. While we all think a fire cannot happen to us, it can happen to anyone. This is why we must always remember to be diligent in our fire prevention activities at home, work and school. Make sure you have working smoke alarms throughout your house and know how to use your fire extinguisher. If you are unsure of how to best protect yourself from fire check out the Oshawa Fire Department’s fire prevention and fire safety tips online!

We thank the Oshawa Fire Department and its staff for their courage, dedication, and commitment to the safety of all people and the risk they take every time they put on their uniforms. The OFD goes above and beyond in their efforts to protect Oshawa and help all citizens protect themselves and their loved ones. We also thank the OFD for this amazing donation to our Museum and I know I cannot wait to learn more about the history of the OFD.

If you found this interesting, be sure to check out the August podcast coming out at the end of the month as I discuss the fires that destroyed two arenas in Oshawa! Also, feel free to make a research appointment to check out the collection if you are interested in finding out more about the Oshawa Fire Department!

Student Museum Musings – Christine

By Christine G., Summer Student

Hello! My name is Christine and I am the Archives Assistant at the Oshawa Museum this summer! It is my first summer here at the Oshawa Museum, but I already love it here! My first project was creating and finishing a finding aid for some of our land deed records and inputting the information into our catalogue. There were a total of 49 items to catalogue that ranged from 1859 to 1933 and spanned both Oshawa and the Township of East Whitby. The most interesting part of this project was seeing just how much information these deeds and mortgages provide to researchers! The deeds and mortgages include information on more than just the land transaction as they include occupations, relationships, and town plans. All of this information can be used to understand city growth patterns, genealogical information, occupational titles and actions, land prices, economic trends, and so much more!

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My current project involves working with recently donated files from the Oshawa Fire Department. We received a large donation of archival material from the Department and are currently trying to sort through all of the files to find out what we have been given. There are thousands of photos, slides, negatives, newspaper clippings, and official documents, and let me tell you, there are so many cool files and photos. For example, the Department provided us with arson files that contain hand written notes, statements from witnesses, official reports, photos, floor plans, and so much more! The photos in this collection are so incredibly awesome. There are photos of the Oshawa Arena fire, house fires, vehicle fires, fires downtown, fire trucks (so many cool photos of fire trucks), construction of fire stations, the firefighters, and that to name a few! If you like photos of trucks and seeing how vehicles change over time, this is definitely a collection you will have to check out!

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The collection of newspaper clippings range from the 1860s all the way to the end of 1999! In these clippings there are articles on different fires, emergencies, crashes, outreach activities, and fire prevention. The clippings also include articles on relations between the Oshawa Fire Department and the municipal council. These articles include union and wage negotiations, a councillor calling Oshawa Firefighters out of shape, and the debate surrounding Bob Rae’s Social Contract Bill.

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The Department also provided over 1000 slides that are being digitized and cataloged. In the slides there are fire prevention and safety presentations, as well as instructions on how to use a fire extinguisher. One of my favourite presentations within the slides is a training for the firefighters on how to spot the signs of arson while fighting a fire. It goes through finding the flash point of the fire (where it started), weird smells, odd flame colours, different colours of smoke and so much more. It is really informative in fire safety and in seeing how the fire department has changed over time. Honestly this is such an amazing collection to have in our archival collection, and I can’t wait to see what else turns up as I complete the project!

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