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Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds
Series 2 Sound Recordings
Tapes 21a & 21b
Presentation by Fire Chief Albert Dunn to the Nanaimo Historical Society meeting on the history of the Fire Department, September 17, 1974
Transcribed by Glenys Wall, June/July 2005
Unknown Speaker: Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to bring to you this evening our speaker, a native son of Nanaimo, who has come up through the years and married and has been throughout the history of this recent Nanaimo and his special field of civil service of the fire department. Mr. Dunn, I believe has two children and they're launched and now he and his wife only have to look after themselves besides the work he does. Peter is in Victoria and Linda in Prince George. Now a few words I'd like to mention about Mr. Dunn's contribution to Nanaimo's history in this regard. He first joined the fire department as a volunteer in 1933 and for 6 years he was a volunteer and then came on the permanent staff in 1939 and from that time on ‘til the present, 35 years, he has been with the fire department and in 1968 he became Fire Chief. There sure has been a lot of experience in Nanaimo in that regard [unintelligible] and everybody of course has to turn out to them. I think that Mr. Dunn must have been known quite well to Nanaimo in these past years. In other respects he has been pretty busy; he has been an active member of the Power Squadron, also [unintelligible] lectures with the Squadron. He has been Commodore of the Nanaimo Yacht Club and he has been Past President of the B.C. Fireman's Association and this is quite a field at which he has been occupied. One particular interest of his that we will be quite interested in is this Fire Department Museum, I understand. He is very interested in the history of the fire department and this is his topic for us for this evening. So ladies and gentlemen I am very pleased to present to you Mr. Albert Dunn.
Dunn: After such a nice introduction you feel like, you know, bowing three times to the east, you know, and thanking the gentleman. However, as a native son, as I look around, I see a lot of my friends here. I'm not as old as some people and older than others. And I think that, although age has nothing to do with it, I think that your interest in your community means a lot. And as I progress through the ranks of the fire department, I joined as a volunteer as the gentleman said in 1933. I had already been hanging around the fire hall for four years getting my fanny kicked out of the way, because you're in the way! Malcolm McRae would say: "Get, out of the way!" Harry McRae would say: " You kids, go away from here"; and Harry Weeks would say: "Go down and help with the team, stay away from the fires, you might get hurt." And when you think back on all these gentlemen who had formed the basis of the fire department, I thought to myself that some place along the line we're losing touch. You as a group, as the Historical Society, are doing a wonderful job. But individually we're doing nothing. And because of my interest in the fire department and my work in the fire department, I started to save a few mementos. As the years went on I found out there was quite a trend to gather everything up and throw it out because there were new regulations coming in. Er, new building codes, er, it went from one thing to another, actually, new fire department. The trend was all-different. We were going from horses to mobile and to mechanical and then into the modern age of electronics and space age type of fire departments. And I thought it was a shame, when I read through some of the old books; and actually the old books, we practically stole them, because right next to the old fire hall, when we were kids, and playing around there, was the old Hilbert Block, a lot of you know it, and in the back of that block, there was a whole folk-lore of interesting things pertaining to Nanaimo. There was old census books, there was old government books, there was old books that said how many acres so-and-so had. All these things were hidden away in books. And this building had at this time, had been empty for years and years and years, and we snuck in there and read these things and from this, I guess, grew my interest in the fire department.
When I got quite active in the fire department, I found out that a lot of the old books and things had been stored upstairs, in the attic, above the old dance floor and when this dance, I see some of you nodding your heads, well when this fire hall was built in 1893, occupied in 1894, that's the one at the corner of Nicol and Victoria Road, they had a lovely dance hall there. And upstairs they had this lovely er... the ceilings were all curved in beautiful, varnished wood and one thing or another, but above that, I found all these old books that were stored and these old books pertained to the early days of the Nanaimo Fire Department. I had a little a bit of opposition from people in the Fire Service at the time, and one thing or another, so I very quietly snuck these things and stuck them in my locker. And I put these in my locker at the fire hall so they couldn't say I stole them because they were still on City property and they stayed there, quite frankly, until I became Chief, and when I became Chief I had a legal right to pull these things out and start assessing what I had got. And what I had got was a wealth of information regarding the old fire department. And it is interesting, exciting and a wonderful chapter in Nanaimo's history.
Because of this, I felt that someone along the line should be doing something to preserve these and so I have started, and in the fire hall I have a number of things now that I've had to fight, beg, borrow, steal, swear and find these things and bring them back. And I might say that because of my interest, people on the outside are now bringing me things and some of the things I have got are really priceless and out of this world. I'll be showing a few of them to you. However, I'll give you a short resume of the Fire Department so to bring you up to date.The Fire Department dates back to May 4th 1878 on which date a public meeting was held in the Institute Hall and the First Nanaimo Fire Company was organized with the following officers: (and here again we go back into the old names we all know and love) Foreman Walter Wilson; First Assistant Foreman William Gillian; Secretary J.H. Place; Treasurer George Norris. That's the first. After electing officers, the meeting decided to procure a hand fire engine and accessories as soon as possible. Now this was a big step! I mean, here we are in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden we're going to form a fire department! And what have we got? We've got nothing except a bunch of interested men who said we want a firehouse. At a meeting held on August 15th of the same year, after the return of Mr. Place from Portland, Oregon (which would be a long trip in those days), the Company decided to purchase a Burton & Blake engine from the Portland Fire Department at a cost of $700 and to buy 500 feet of hose at a cost of $250, which I might say now wouldn't buy us two lens (?). The new prices I got this year just shook me. A committee was appointed to canvass the town for subscriptions to raise the amount required. On November 28th, the offer of J. Hirst and J.W. Stirtan to donate a site for the fire hall at the corner of Wharf and Commercial Streets was accepted and the meeting decided at once to erect a one and one-half storey engine house. On March 12, 1879, the first practice with the new equipment was held at Hirst Wharf, the machine throwing two very fine streams by this time the new fire hall was built and the equipment was stored in the new building. During the years from 1888 to 1909, Nanaimo firemen were very active in hose reel competitions and were competing with Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma and in 1890 they won the Pacific Coast Championship, which was run off in Victoria and the personnel of the team were: C. Williams, Captain H. Peck, R. Wallace, M. Fitzpatrick, H. Pettigrew, W. Wardill, J. Suggett (?), W. Shutts, H.L. Horne, H. Pettigrew, H. Leclair, J. Mackay and A. Hart, all old names which we know and love, as I was saying. On July 2nd 1892 the company sent a team of 13 men to compete in the Vancouver hose reel contest, they being successful in pulling off 1st Honours. The personnel: R.E. van Houten, Captain C. Van Houten, R. Pettigrew, H. Finlay, H.Peck, H.Horne, Bill Edmonds, Taffy, we all knew him; John Parkin, J.Wallace, W.Cheney, W. Taylor, A. Castle and W. Prestige. Up to this date the equipment consisted of one hand-pump engine, nicknamed the "Able Willie" and two hose carts and as there was much need for a ladder in the year 1893, the ladies of the city got together and by proceeds of [unintelligible] raised enough money to purchase an aerial ladder. Now this is very, very interesting, because believe it or not, I have the original presentation. You're not getting it! (laughter). It's mine!
"Presentation, Aerial Truck, Nanaimo Fire Department. The ladies of Nanaimo. The city park, July 26th 1893. To the Officers and Members of the Black Diamond Engine Company and branches. The steady advance in the progress of our fair city for the past few years had caused many three- and four-storey brick and frame blocks to be erected. It was painfully apparent that you were not sufficiently equipped with apparatus to protect the lives and limbs of the inmates of such high buildings in case of a serious conflagration. In the cause of humanity, the ladies of Nanaimo, therefore decided to provide the necessary funds to furnish suitable life-saving apparatus a committee was formed, and their efforts, aided in the most praiseworthy and liberal manner by the citizenry proved eminently successful. As a practical result the ladies' committee now formerly present and hand over to you, the trustees, the handsome and efficient truck, which the committee has most appropriately named Rescue Number 1, Nanaimo, B.C. And while it is hoped that no disaster may occur, in the case of any such untoward event, the citizens of Nanaimo will confidently feel that in every untoward event, emergency, that the truck will be manned by brave and intrepid firemen who will not for a moment hesitate to make every possible effort to save life and limb even at the imminent risk of their own. Wishing the fire department, individually and collectively, every success, not only in combating the terrible fire fiend, but in their private pursuits, and that the truck will fully all requirements. Mrs. Mark Bate Sr., Mrs. Raines, Mrs. W. McGregor, Mrs. J. Fraser, Mrs. A. Cowie, Mrs. A. Summerhays, Mrs. P. Taylor, Mrs. John Hilbert, Mrs. George Gibbs, Mrs. W.E. Webb, Mrs. Tom O'Connell, Mrs. A. Raper, Mrs. McArthur, Mrs. John Pawson, Mrs. James Pargeter, Mrs. John Parkin, Mrs. R. Gowdy, Mrs. A. Exley (?), Mrs. Cunningham, Mrs. A.T. Norris, President."
And there it is, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the original. When I thought of these things lying around and nobody looking after them, it just caused an ache in my heart, because all boys what to be a fireman, and I did, I wanted to be a fireman. And because of this feeling I started saving these things. Unfortunately tonight I forgot a very piece of equipment, which we'll come to later. However, as I said, these things, I have them, and they're going to be in our fire department museum. After we got this from the ladies, very nicely, the motto of the company being " We strive to save" and they actually formed a fire company and it is very interesting to me to find out, and this was very unusual, the second session of the third parliament of British Columbia for 1879, the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Albert Morton Richards, Chapter 7, April 29th 1879, an Act for the Protection of the Nanaimo Fire Brigade, to be known as the Black Diamond Engine Company, and to be known as the Nanaimo Fireman's Act of 1879 and to consist of constitution of bylaws and members and volunteers. But we actually have an act, which says we can have a fire department. Now this is unusual, but this is the way Nanaimo was in those days, they did everything right and this Black Diamond Fire Department was very, very interesting to me, but it was hard to find anything about it. And because of my interest in this, the first thing I got from some kind soul, a Black Diamond Fire Company badge. Now this is as priceless as any gem you want to get from some potentate in the east, as far as I'm concerned, because here's something relating to the history of Nanaimo; this goes back to 1879 and they actually gave themselves a badge and you can see it's tiny, it's black, I guess because of the diamonds, the coal, and it is very, very interesting to me to have this.
I have another one here that says "Nanaimo Fire Department Number 1" the first one issued, and this came from real, good friends, Mr. Peck, for which we thank very, very much, because this was a wonderful contribution to our museum. We now have something tangible. I did have, this is an aside, by the way, Nanaimo City Police, there's their badge. Now that's rare. Frank Ney and all the rest would love to have this, but they're not getting it because I have it. (laughter). And it's going to go alongside our fire department badges in my museum. But as you can see that these things, some place along the line, have been laying in a draw or laying some place and actually they're of no use to anyone. But when you can take them out and have them displayed and shown as one of the originals from our town of which we're so proud, then it becomes very, very important that we look after them, preserve them, and put them in a place of honour. I have the pins that were given to a lot of the old firemen. These were in to respect the work they've done. Bert Horne, you know old Bert, there's his badge. It was deeded to us. I have another one here, the name unfortunately is not on it, but it is given to the ..er... same thing, in memory of the work these firemen did in the years gone by. And I think that with all these things, I have another one here from a real good friend of mine; we've been friends since ..er.. too long, I guess, it goes way back, years and years, Billy Gordon. You all know Bill from Nanaimo Sportsmen. Billy and I were kids together, grew up together. This is his Dad, Thomas J. Gordon, Black Diamond Engine Company, and this certifies that Thomas J. Gordon was an active member of the Black Diamond Engine Company and he was admitted in 1892 and John Parkin signed it as Chief and sealed by the Black Diamond and I've taken this and had it er.. and had plasticene put over er..plasticised so that it will be forever there and a day. And this is of interest to me because Billy is a friend of mine and I remember in the old days when we were kids, his Dad had the red shirt and the big galoshes over it, and his big hat and the gumboots and when that fire bell went, he just took off, you see, and I've tried and we are still trying, some place along the line some of Bill's nephews or his nieces have got hold of the braces and the red shirt. He knows they're around. He's going to try and get them for me, which would be a wonderful addition to our museum. But these are the things that I'm saving and these are the things that I'm hoping will be on display at the fire hall. I have the full support of the City, by the way, and I think it's just a matter of myself setting it up and getting it the way we want it. I don't anticipate any problems or any argument.
Now who can tell me who this man is? I don't know. He's either the first or second Fire Chief of the City of Nanaimo and we don't know him, unfortunately. Now this was in pieces, as you can see, and I took it and I mounted it, got it together and I had it on a stiff back and I keep hoping someone can tell me who this gentleman is.
(discussion from the audience, unintelligible)
Female audience member: Were the volunteer firemen paid any kind of honorarium by the City?
Dunn: Yes, they were paid, at the time they were paid, if I'll continue on here.
Female audience member: I just wondered if in that there could be any clues.
Dunn: No the only clues we have is that there were a certain number of chiefs in the organization, you see, and er..here it is here (shuffling of papers). On September 28th 1894 the Fire Hall on Wharf Street was destroyed by fire when the Royal Hotel caught fire and it was necessary to find a new place to store their apparatus. Members of theCompany volunteered and in one day they erected a shed at the back of the Dick Nightingale stables on Cavan Street. On August 9th 1890, a subscription was started with the intention of securing funds to erect a brick building at the foot of Nicol Street to be used for the Fire Department headquarters. The construction of the building commenced in September 1893 and was not finished until the end of 1894 when the apparatus was moved from Cavan Street to the new hall, Number 1 Fire Hall today, which was the old brick building we all know. And up to this time there had been no remuneration for the firemen for services, the only money being received was a grant of $500. per year from the Provincial Government and what money could be raised in donations and proceeds of entertainments. The last grant from the Government they received was in 1899 and this money was spent in buying new equipment for the upkeep of the new hall etc. In 1894, the next piece of apparatus was a steam fire engine which was purchased and sent out from London, England and was made by the Merryweather Company and it was nicknamed the Merry Weather, which you are all familiar with, the old Merry Weather. Several hose carts were purchased and placed in convenient locations around the city and there were two very good wells that were often used for [unintelligible] and for practices, one being at the foot of Albert Street, right down here. In those days if a Teamster fireman happened to be near the Fire Hall when the alarm was sounded, he hauled the cart to the fire and was awarded the privilege of holding the nozzle, which was his remuneration for getting the cart there. And this was quite a thing! In the old days I used to hear Harry Weeks and Tab Manion and Marshall and different Teamsters around time, and of course they were great, big men and I was still a little kid and they used to start talking about being there first, hitching up the team and taking off for the fire. And the fellows that were driving the teams said they never saw anything like it in their life because those horses just ran until the blood ran from their noses; they would just run, they didn't know anything about stopping or quitting. They just ran until they were told to stop and a lot of you older people would remember this, I guess, the horses running out.
A movement had been in progress since the government grant was cut out, to have the City take over the Fire Department, which was accomplished in November 4th 1901, when every member of the Black Diamond Fire Engine Company was notified that the City was taking over the department and if he wished to still remain in the department he would have to make application to the City and this was done and practically the whole membership of the Company was accepted and from that date the department's name was changed to Nanaimo Fire Department which was 1901. In 1902 the horses, Tom and Jerry, were bought and trained for fire purposes and did wonderful work and they were replaced later by another team of horses called Pat and Mike. By this time the Merry Weather fire engine had outlived its usefulness and had been replaced by the Ronald Fire Engine, which was the one I remembered.
1914 was a busy year for the Fire Department and through the energetic work of Alderman W. J. Ferguson and his committee, the fire wardens of that year, a complete change was made round the hall and the purchase of two fully equipped Lafrance Fire Trucks, Number 1 and Number 2, and the installation of the Gamewell Fire Alarm System. And this is the 1913 truck which we still have. And here again, like I say, I guess it pays to be oh sort of insidious in your manner, and aggressive, because the City had already sold one fire engine for $295 and it went down to a chap by the name of Foster, who, fortunately for us, preserved it. He was interested in preserving the old vehicle and he did preserve this one and the other one was up for sale and had been sold. And we fought and over the period of years we finally got it put in perpetual care of the Fire Department, which means our City cannot sell it anymore. As long as there's a fireman alive, then we are looking after it and no way they're going to get it back, frankly. We've maintained the old truck and you see it in parades; we keep it shiny and one thing and another, we keep it all spruced up and the kids love it, we allow the kids all on it and take them for ride. I have often wondered what happened….old John Meakin used to come to the Fire Hall and old Tom Jones and quite a number of these old chaps, who had been in the years and come over and of course sort of spilled into my era, when they came into the Fire Department, and sitting on this old bench and one day I got curious about it and someone said that that was one of the benches they made when they got the two new fire trucks, they built four benches and they put two in each truck and visitors to the town rode around in this new fire truck. And this is very interesting to me, because some place here.....they had a good time, frankly, (laughter) because right here I have "Nanaimo Fire Department Banquet" and celebrating the auto fire apparatus installation at the Eagles Hotel, March 12th 1914 and they really ate!! (laughter) This was...this belonged...this invitation was for George Davies, 190 Haliburton Street, Nanaimo, B.C. I think he was another old-timer and their menu was:
"Soup: creamed oyster, fish -boiled salmon and parsley sauce, and the entrees were stewed steak and dumplings, English style banana fritters; relishes were chow-chow, chutney and pickles. The roasts were young pork, apple and cranberry sauce, sirloin of beef a juice, stuffed chicken. Their vegetables were boiled and mashed potatoes, French peas, mashed turnips; salad- lobster on mayonnaise. Dessert was hot mince, apple and blueberry pies, orange cream puddings, gorgonzola cheese, Canadian cheese, tea, coffee and milk."
Now to me this is really....they had a good time, didn't they? (laughter) Their toast list was:
" Chairman, John Parkin, Chief of the Nanaimo Fire Department, the King, God Save the King, and our guests were Alderman H. McKenzie and Alderman James Crossan and the song was by David Roberts."
"Our City" was the song and I imagine this is something that has gone. There was a song that was dedicated to our city and over the years....I haven't got it and I don't suppose you people have either, but it is now gone.
" Mayor Planta and Alderman James Young were the instrumentalists and our [industries?] were Messrs. Tom Dobson and Harry Freeman. Recitation by Mr. R. Fulton."
I've heard Mr. Fulton, he used to tell the one about the jawbone of an ass and if you remember Mr. Fulton, you remember that? It was very, very good; he was very good at it."Our old volunteers were ex-mayor Hilbert, ex-alderman Morton and Place and our Fire Department was Alderman William Ferguson and Alderman Booth, the song was Mr. Jack Dunsmuir, instrumental was...er... another song by Mr. D. Roberts. The ladies presentation was by Mr. Fulton and the press was Mr. Georgie Norris" (again, see you were getting around there) and the host and song was Mr. David Roberts."
(Note: I believe Mr. Dunn was quoting from the invitation but it was unclear at times.)
So I can see they had a real good time. They had another banquet, the Fireman's Banquet, (Mr. Dunn holds up an invitation) with a steam engine on it, at the Hotel Nanaimo at 9 o'clock. I guess we're all invited.
"The members of the Nanaimo Fire Company request the pleasure of Mr. [?] Horne at a banquet to be held at the Hotel Nanaimo, on Tuesday evening, December 3rd 1901 at 9 o'clock.
Female Audience member: Albert, when they took the fire truck, the first one, the one we have now, and they put those seats in it and they wanted us to test whether they could go up and down the hills and they took the firemen on a trip to Victoria and Dad went with them.
Dunn: Did he?
Female Audience member: And Roy Wenborn drove the truck.
Dunn: Oh yes I knew Roy.
Female Audience member: And I don’t remember who else but Dad told us he went with them on that first trip, before they accepted the truck [unintelligible]. And another thing too, you don’t mind me telling you, every Saturday night, we used to have peanut jollies (?) at the peanut store and every Saturday night they advertised one pocket [unintelligible] and the other pocket was for Tom and Jerry. And Tom and Jerry knew Saturday night and they put their noses in the pocket.
Dunn: I gather this was true of these horses because I know that Brian Benton, that a lot of you know, Brian was still in the fire department, of course, when I joined and he used to say that when the phone rang, the horses would hold their breath and actually “huhh” (intake of breath by Dunn) and they could tell by the sound of old John Parkin’s voice if he was excited, “where was the fire”, and the horses would hold their breath and if it wasn’t a fire it was someone looking for something, they would go “phew” (sound of exhaling by Dunn). This was actually true! Those horses were …and one time, they couldn’t understand, the harness hung above the horses and their was trip, and when the driver ran in, he would hit the trip and down would come the harness over the top of the horses and he would reach underneath them and snap the buckles and things. And this day he was a little slow getting there but the harness was on the horses and that darn smart Tom or Jerry hit it with their nose, they tripped it so it came down (laughter) and this was common I gather with these horses. They were almost human, they just did this, secondary nature, and, you know, it was just amazing that the intelligence these horses had to do this, not once or twice; they knew their job and they did it. This is all. And as I say before it was just amazing to think how these horses ran and ran and ran.
(End of side 1. The beginning of side 2 of the tape is unintelligible.]
Dunn: …. however I think that looking and reading of the old things, we’ve lost a lot. I think that the old time fireman with his great big moustache and his hat and when they came back from the fire the brushing of the brow and this sort of thing, I think they had a real good era, and it’s a shame, and as I say, this all influences me to save all the stuff I can. As I say, because of my interest in this and word has got around and Mr. Peck gave me these badges, which I appreciate very much… er.. Miss Cavalsky gave me the cane and I have it with me at home, and darn it all I forgot it tonight; I had two other meetings before I got here tonight and in some place I have left the cane. But it has a gold head on this cane, which would be worth a lot of money now because it was a real thing and it was presented to George Cavalsky in 1901, secretary.
Male audience member: I have one presented, at least my son has, that was presented to my grandfather.
Dunn: To George W, I have that record in here and I was going to ask you did you have that? Good well I have Mr. Cavalsky and it is a very fancy carved cane, it’s a black ebony cane with this nice gold top on it. Very nicely done, and carved on the top. It’s in appreciation of the work he’d done as secretary of the Nanaimo Fire Department, 1901. He was still secretary in 1932 and 1933 when I joined the Department. So I don’t know how many years before that; they give him in 1901 for good service and he’s still secretary in 1933 and 1934 when I was in.
Female audience member: Albert, I want to ask you what became of the pumper truck? Remember when the pumper truck stood over there on the corner [unintelligible]. What became of that?
Dunn: Unfortunately that went the same way as the .… it was sold for a silly little sum of money, which was ridiculous, you know. But in those days, as I say, I guess we can’t condemn people, but unfortunately it was given away, it was released and let go and it was a history…that was the Ronald fire engine you’re talking about.
Female audience member: [unintelligible]Dunn: There it is! I have a picture of it. And that’s Jim Cowie and a lot of the old timers and this is when, if you remember, when we had the plague of caterpillars in Nanaimo. And they were using the old pumper here, and this says:
“During the past few weeks our city has been visited by a plague of caterpillars. These pests have caused great havoc and only those who have had occasion to pass these trees effected during the past few weeks fully realize the extent of the being damage done by these pests.”
And this was give to me….this was a letter in 1922 and it was signed by Harold Hackwood and the mayor was Frank Busby, er Fred Busby I guess it was, and it said in conclusion:
“That the government inspector come over from the mainland on the 20th to inspect the same and express himself that the system of spraying was highly satisfactory and that Killpest (which was the stuff they were using at the time) has a great future before it as a high class insecticide.”
Here again, like I say, because I’m friendly with Frank Cowie and Doreen, Doreen gave me this picture, because the James Brownlow who is mentioned in this little write up here, was Miss Doreen Cowie’s father’s uncle. Now Doreen was a war bride, during the last war, from England; her Dad lived here before she was born, he lived in Nanaimo. And his uncle was this Mr. Brownlow; and with whom he stayed until going overseas in 1914-1918 and this was why Doreen was born overseas because he stayed in England after the war. And his name was James Willis and he lived in the orchard on 8th Street, Townsite. So here again, like I say, I have a very interesting photograph “spraying caterpillars on 8th Street and Union Avenue, July 1922, with the Fire Department Merry Weather pump”. And this was the one with the big brass thing that you’re talking about, that sat beside the window. And unfortunately it was sold for scrap brass.
A few of the chiefs of the Fire Department: 1879 was Walter Wilson; 1880 was William Keddy; 1885 was T. Bradley; 1886-87 was John Scales; 1888-1889 George Davis; 1890 William H. Morton; 1891-96 John Scales again; 1897-1936 John Parkin. And then from there we went from John Parkin to Bramley Benton to James Anthony, Murph Wardill, Colin McArthur and myself. So you can see that we have come [unintelligible] progress. However, I have a, if I am not boring you too much, I have a few interesting things here that I would like to read to you.
Female audience member: Did you say Mr. Walter Wilson?
Dunn: Walter Wilson, 1879.
Female audience member: He’s the man who built [unintelligible] Wilson Hotel first.Dunn: Wilson Hotel?
Female audience member: Yes, I believe he was a plumber at first. That’s the first one
(shuffling of paper, and unintelligible words and voices; possibly an exchange of photos).
Dunn: Thank you very much. He’s been a mystery to me, like I say, I want to know who the gentleman was and I have the picture. Like I say, I tried to restore it as best I can. They tell me there’s people now who can do it and with this in mind I would like to get it finished up for my museum.
Female audience member: There should be pictures of him down the museum.
Dunn: I have a number of books, of course, that tell the history of the Fire Department through the years, the minute books and one thing or another, but I have in my museum, for instance, I have the bell that rang on the tower; you all remember the bell. It rang out the different numbers, spaced out, which told you where the fire was. Twelve, or thirteen or fourteen, depending where you lived and when we left the Fire Hall, there was some talk at the time, this was 1968, er 1967 on, actually, there was quite a bit of talk about the Japanese who were coming down here for this new [Cipa] Mill. That’s the [C-Iota] Company and the Canadian Pacific and there were going to come down here to this mill and they were going to build a fancy Japanese garden where the existing road goes over to this mill [unintelligible] they were going to build a fancy Japanese garden there and one of the first things they needed was a bell. And at that time the bell from the tower was going down there. No way! No way! I schemed and fought and one thing or another and of course it took x number of dollars to lift this bell off and we didn’t have the dollars and it took a machine to do this and we didn’t have this and finally by a bit of persuasion and actually bumming and raising cane and one thing and another, they finally started to take the bell down. Well the minute that bell hit the ground, we had it! We have have now taken back up to the Fire Hall and if you come up there and look at it, it hung up there from 1893 on and we went through…here’s a picture of the bell. And you know, this bell, so help me, was just filthy from all these years, of course and the rain and the soot and the smoke and the more rain, more soot, more smoke over the years, all those years, but we’ve got it, we’ve worked on it, we’ve done everything on it and it’s now coming to a beautiful, goldy tone. And you can hit that bell even with your knuckle and it rings out a lovely, resonant sound, which is beautiful.
Audience member: Unintelligible
Dunn: Yes, yes it came from the Buckeye Foundry Company in the U.S. on the west coast, er east coast rather; it is the Buckeye Foundry, anyway. I remember one time a woman coming through here who was a specialist in bells and she’d heard about this Nanaimo bell and she arrived and she was all excited about this bell, she had heard so much about it and I know I had to climb to the top of the tower and take all the figures and all the numbers off it and at that time it had just been replaced by McRae Brothers who put a new, I don’t know if you remember, Isobel, but they put a new holding thing on it and they’d suspended it down into this new tripod affair. And I went up and it’s the Buckeye from Cincinnati, that’s Ohio, that’s where it come from. And she was quite interested. Well since we’ve got it out the Fire Hall and it’s down where you can see it, it stands about this high and about this wide and everybody reaches down to feel this little bell, like this and they go like this and they end up….and that’s how wide it is on the bottom of this bell, and it’s a beautiful thing and we’re so proud that we have it now and here again nobody’s going to take it back from us. We have it and we’ve got it and it’s part of our history and we want it!
Because I was interested, like I say, I go through these old books and, we have a Bank of British Columbia now; here’s cheques from the Bank of British Columbia in 1894. They don’t like to admit it, apparently it went broke or something, but there’s original cheques from the original Bank of British Columbia. And here we have George Norris sending us a bill from the Nanaimo Fire Department, from George Norris, to advertise your meeting, $1.50. You’re sure pretty expensive (laughter) and to advertise a meeting, $1.00 and we pay [unintelligible] $1.50 and we go right down this thing and the total bill was $36.00 for advertising our drill notices and our by-laws and 100 copies of the constitution etc which are kind of comical, but anyway they were paid – received payment by George Norris. So you’re not getting that money again!
Like I say, being interested, I have here a letter to the Union Steamship Company of B.C. Limited, [S.S.Cutch]: one bell, one clapper, one hanger, one box of pulleys, ropes and assorted things, $26.35 and the bell was in bond. Then someplace along here, er, delivery, John H. [Cocking] to the ladies of the committee of the Fire Company on April 1st, 1893, to hauling fire bell, $1.00. So this is very interesting to me to have these things, you know, now having the bell; and here’s the hauling cost, here’s the Union Steamship’s bill and here’s the bill from the bond people saying it’s in bond.
Female audience member: [unintelligible]
Dunn: Here we have one: $906 and $156.55 freight paid to the Canadian Pacific, total $749.45. “Received from George Norris and J.H. Place the sum of $749.45 being the amount in full for the ladder truck delivered to Nanaimo, B.C. and in full date and payment of the contract entered into between the [Gutterparker] & Rubber Company of Toronto and the Ladies Fire Department of Nanaimo.” So the ladies paid for it. That’s the first hook and ladder and that applies to this so you ladies paid for that. I wish I could get a hook and ladder for $749 now.
Female audience member: [unintelligible] and I sat on that ladder in the breeze and went to the park on Comox road and stood up and see the height of it, you see.
Dunn: It was 45 feet.Female audience member: I remember my father was the only one that would climb that ladder right to the top. And I wondered if you had a picture of it.
Dunn: Yes we have. Here’s one of the Nanaimo Fire Company, Notice:
“Members of the above Company are notified to be at the engine house at such a such o’clock, Tuesday, January 17th 1898. General Meeting, E.J. Cavalsky, Secretary.”
I have one here that it was written by Charlie Wilson, Jnr. who was the Charlie Wilson we knew. It’s a fairly long one, I’ll just read parts of it, but I’m interested because there’s people here who it applies to. It says:“ A smoker we are going to celebrate;
There’ll be lots to drink and sandwiches and cake,
Our purpose you’ll sure to understand
When Hans Peters gets up and plays the band. (now we all knew Hans)
The Chief will call out who’s here for drill,
When poor Cheese Bennet and Jack Swan will stand still.
Now two at a drill is very poor showin’
For a department of 25 in a city that’s a growin’.
Now it’s up to you to attend drill tonight
And swell the number and make the work light.
Now there’s Chief Parkin with trumpet in hand,
Not big in size but a whale to command;
Who faces the danger every fire he goes,
But never fears as it’s his duty, he knows.
I speak for the boys when I wish this good wish
That he may live long and enjoy times like this.
Now Taffy Edmonds, the second in command,’
Welsh by birth and a credit to the land;
He is always ready willing, without hesitation
To see the hose is put up in the right station.
Now there’s Foreman McRae of the hose wagon
An officer you’ll never find lagging,
You’ll always find Harry, right up to the dot
In winter or summer, when it’s very very hot.
Er …….Now driver Benton of Number 1 truck
Has been there the longest and had wonderful luck;
He has grown bald-headed but Bram doesn’t care,
As no one with brains can have lots of hair.
Now there’s our secretary, Cavalsky by name,
An old timer and fireman of fame,
He’s on the job every hour of the day
Looking after our interests, especially the pay.
Now Bert Horne we know is a grocer by trade,
But a better fireman there never was made,
To attend his business he has a lot to do,
To run a shop up on the old Fairview.
Now Gray, of course, ( I guess this is Jim Gray, I think)
Now Gray of course, without any bragging
Is a foreman you’ll never find lagging.
He is fond of the fires in the middle of the night,
‘Cause he never hears the bell, and says it doesn’t ring right.
Now Hardy, (this is Tommy Hardy, I think, his Dad would it be? Tommy Hardy’s Dad?)
Now Hardy, of course, you have met before,
He’s the fireman who almost lived next door (that would be the old drug store?)
Of course he moved to the other end of town,
He forgot to come and see if we do not need him around.
Now Malcolm McRae is a hoseman of renown,
Always smiling when the girls are around;
Always willing to do his share,
No matter when or anywhere.
(Malcolm has a special…er.. I think a lot of Malcolm because he’s one of the first that encouraged me to become a fireman and I can see him with his big moustache and everything saying: “Oh you better get in there kid”, he says “you’re growin’ up pretty good”, he says, “we’ll show you what to do, just keep out of the way and don’t get hurt. But come on in, we’ll help you.” And er he was a great gentleman.)Now Algie, of course, now fires he’ll fear ( this is..er.. he used to run the Paisley Dye works, Algie)
Now Algie, of course, no fires he’ll fear,
‘Cause he sleeps by the bell which he’s bound to hear,
For he says he dyes and keeps on singing
I wonder if he died the other morning when the bell was ringing?
Now Walter (I don’t know who Walter is, no Walker, would that be Walker across the street, I think, from the Old Firehall).
Now Walker, who sells all the beds just right,
Willie said he’d go to the fires at night,
But the Restmore, he used, was so soft and so cozy,
He listened to the bell and said, “Let her go Rosy”.
Now Joe Parkin, a brother of the Chief,
Must have copied his lesson from the same leaf,
Both small and daring and always on hand
No matter what time his brother commands.
Ritchie, Billie Ritchie, there’s one about Billie Ritchie and Harry Weeks.
Now Weeks of the sand and gravel fame,
Is one of the firemen we should name,
Who drove our horses, Tom and Jerry
To many a fire in a hurry.
Now there’s Allen Robillaid, the last of us all,
Who sleeps upstairs not far from the wall,
Has complained of his bed being hard in the middle.
If Murph moves the one stick it might solve the riddle.
Now I might say this is quite true, because when I first started in the Firehall and sleeping there you never knew what was going to be in your bed. You’d find a billiard cue there or one of the bowling balls or something; you’d come in and flop on the bed and here’d be one of these things, so I guess this is what they’re getting at here.
We have with us tonight such men as Hooper Bill,
T. Gordon, J. Cowie and Jerry McGill,
Alexander, (I don’t know who him) dad Bennett and Manion and Finch,
We are all glad to see them, that’s a cinch.Now boys, you’ve heard all I’ve got to say,
And maybe my pen I might pick up another day,
I hope you’ve all enjoyed my little rhyme,
But whatever you do have a good time.This would be 19 er, just the time the truck 1914. Now I think this is it here, Nanaimo Firemen, yes: “ March 12th 1914, Nanaimo Firemen hold big banquet. And event held in the dining parlours of the Eagle Hotel to commemorate the important epic in the history of the Nanaimo Fire department.
But er as I say we have so many things in here that pertain to the old days, it’s just amazing.
“ Mr. Walter Akenhead opened a boarding house on the corner of Wharf and Commercial Streets, just opposite the Masonic Lodge building in 1876. He applied for and received a licence and gave his premises the name of the Whatcheer House, in 1877.
I think a lot of these old cheques are rather important. It shows what they paid for hose in the old days and here’s one for $64 and something, duty on the fire bell. And another one April 5th 1894, the Ladies Committee of the Fire Department’s society, it doesn’t say what that ones for but it was signed by the secretary, J.J. Scott. Bank of British Columbia, debit Nanaimo Fire Brigade, [Gutterparker] Rubber Company. “Nanaimo Cemetery, Nanaimo, B.C. received from Nanaimo Fire Department for the late Harry Easton the sum of $8 for the right to bury him in plot 57, range 8. Purchase of the plot was $3 opening of the grave was $5, total $8. per Adam Thompson, secretary.”
Nanaimo Pharmacy, er.. goods supplied, A.E. Planta, for Nanaimo Pharmacy, George Norris, secretary, paid by the Nanaimo Fire Department and they had there own real nice cheques, as you can see here, Nanaimo Fire Department was written right across them.
Another from George Norris, Nanaimo Free Press office, 1879, a bill to the Nanaimo Fire Company for advertising; C.W. Horth proprietor, Nanaimo Livery and Stables, [unintelligible] for Walter Wilson, who’s the foreman, for hiring of a saddle horse, $2.50. I guess he had a date that night. (laughter) Pete [McQuaide] & Sons and this was for one piece of rubber hosing, paid Peter [McQuaide] per George Norris $12.75. Renwick & Company, waggon makers, blacksmiths, [unintelligible] etc.
So you can see that we have quite a bit of history in the fire department; I could talk here for 2 weeks and do nothing but bore you. However I think these things are so important that I want to bring a few down for you tonight and show you and I’m hoping that as this increases ….here we have a ribbon that the Nanaimo Hose Team got when they won the Pacific Coast Championship. Now this was something in those days, because Nanaimo’s a small town and they were competing against places that were ….er San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and we were just a small town as compared with these places and yet Nanaimo always were in the first two or three, first or second.
Male audience member: Did you get the Free Press [unintelligible] picture of the old cart in the paper a couple of weeks ago?
Dunn: No, it was this one? Well there are 2 or 3 of these around. This was given to me by .er…was taken in 1900 ..er..Bert Horne was a backman and he had the coupler and J. Parkin was next to the man with the coupler and these were the only 2 we knew in this whole thing. Here was a very interesting thing; it was the constitution and the bylaws of the Black Diamond Engine Company Number 1, Nanaimo, B.C. and this was printed by the Nanaimo Free Press in 1888 and the name on this is James Cowie, Nanaimo Fire Engine Company, Nanaimo, B.C. and I was showing this by chance when I got home tonight at 5 o’clock and Doreen and Frank Cowie were at my house and we’d been to this funeral of Dougie Robinson’s boy and they had come up to see if we’d go out to dinner with them and I said: ‘Oh I’ve got something for you, Frank”, and he said “Oh, what’s that?” “I’ve got your uncle’s bylaw”, “You haven’t!” I says “I have so” and he was tickled to death that I had it and this too will go into our museum. But as I say, we actually had an Act proclaiming the Nanaimo Fire Department; it wasn’t just a local thing of forming; we have an Act by Provincial Government that says we can have a Fire Department and this in itself is unique and shows you the foresight of our old timers in these days gone by who did these things and had them done right. I think that pretty well brings me to the end, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Female audience member: Albert do you want any other material for you?
Dunn: I would like anything you have, you bet.
Female audience member: This is another one of the banquet invitations I found in a book.
Dunn: Thank you very much, that’s in wonderful shape too. This is Mrs. H. McRae invited to that party too. I thank you for your kind attention and I appreciate the opportunity of talking to you. I think that too many of us are prone to throw away the history of our town. Like I say being a native……..
Female audience member: I think that’s a Mr. Scales. I believe there is some relative in Nanaimo, they might know.
Dunn: Well I’ve tried and tried, any relation to [Whidby]?
Female audience member: Well there is a Herb Scales somewhere around. If it is it would be his uncle, not his father, he might know. I’m pretty sure, because the others were all very short, stout men and he isn’t.Female audience member: There’ve been a number of very interesting comments and questions that have come along as Mr. Dunn’s been speaking. We don’t want to run too late but I was wondering if before we cut off any opportunity for a question or a comment, has anybody got something that they wish to add to this evening’s talk?
Female audience member: Well yesterday I had company from California and at my house your apt to find anything because I live in the old home, and they said: “ Just what is that out there by the gate?” And I said: “That’s the old ash box”. And they looked and I know the woman had never heard of one of them. And I said: “Well we used to have a wooden one there and one time there was a fire and I [unintelligible] for Chinatown, that was our number, and rang 3 and 6; it was early in the morning and Dad got up and he went out and there was always great excitement when there was a fire on and you people were at the back gate and they said: “Where are you going?” and he said: ”To the fire in Chinatown” and they said: “You’ve got a fire in your own backyard in your ash box”. (laughter) After that there was a concrete one put there and it’s used for humous now.
Dunn: Well you know we could back for years, and when I think about the years, as I say, I’ve been 41 years now associated with the Fire Department and I think every one of them…every year brings you something new that’s lovable to talk about, you know. We have our tragedies, of course, and we have other things. But I always remember getting called to Chinatown one time, and we went up there, and it was just a chimney fire. But you all know Chinese; they were excitable, they were yelling and hollering and all and in the old days, of course, everything a Chinaman had was in a trunk about the size of this table here and all you did was close the lid and grab the handle and you run, you see. Well I got to the front door and this was in the old Chinatown, which was on Machleary Street, not the Pine Street Chinatown. And I come to this boarding house and I looked up and the long stairs went straight from the front door went straight up to the top to a second storey and so I looked up the top and this Chinaman was coming out the top and he wasn’t stopping for anybody; but when he saw us at the bottom, I guess he thought it wasn’t too bad and he stopped but the trunk didn’t and it hit him behind the knees, he sat on the trunk and he rode it right down the steps, you see (laughter) and he hit the bottom and he grabbed the handle and he kept running right across the street to the other side and he never stopped. But by this time I was just doubled up with laughter, you see, but he never hesitated one bit, boy, he just kept on the thing and we’ve had a lot of the funny one and as I said before, the tragedies and I think that when I look back at them…; I’m retiring in December, I’m retiring early. My wife has been a nurse for years and years and she’s been in the emergency and she’s retired and she’s putting the pressure on me now; she’s been at home for a couple of years and saying how nice it is, you see, so we are going….the kids are away now; my daughter’s married, my son’s married and they’re both away from Nanaimo. So come December, oh about, the 10th I think, I’ll be packing it up and starting to enjoy myself. So I want to get a lot of this stuff set up before I leave and put under glass and in frames and put up at the firehall and I hope that a good many of you people will come along and visit us. I look around tonight, it takes me back years and years because 1933, and 1934, subject to correction here Mr. Barraclough, you opened a candy shop across the street here and I used to have pack sugar in there. But it was always pleasant because he always said: “Here son, here’s a couple of candies” and he made the loveliest chocolate Nanaimo ever had and as I say, I look around here and I see a lot of friends: I see the Johnsons from years ago, and the McRaes and it’s really nice for me to be here to talk to you. I appreciate the opportunity and I thank you very, very much.
Dunn: I would like to say one other thing too. Since the Chinatown fire I’ve been…here again by devious means, trying to get a little piece of history that was up there by the gate of Chinatown and a lot of the old timers remember the gate on Chinatown. And just inside the gate was a little old fashioned fire hydrant. It was built like Mae West, one of those kinds, you know. So I’ve been trying to get this and trying to get this. Well I couldn’t get it, and we had the fire and unfortunately it was … part of it was damaged and one thing and another and it sat there and sat there. Now for the last four years I’ve been going down to Chuck Wong’s, it’s cost me 753 and a half cups of coffee and I don’t know what else, but I got working on Chuck and through Chuck I got into the Nanaimo Chinese, what do you call it, anyway it make no difference, these old Chinese gentlemen who have control. And years ago, as you well know, all Chinatowns were owned by the Wong Lee Land Company or the Canton Land Company and this is where the trouble came and this apparently was an original hydrant and it was bought by Chinese people in Nanaimo and put in there on the original old wooden pipe and this goes back probably 1911 or 1912 but being a unique hydrant there’s no name on it even. I don’t even know where it was made. It may have came from China itself……Tape Ends