TIMMINS – It’s been almost 100 years to the day since the Great Fire of 1916 swept through Northeastern Ontario, destroying towns, killing hundreds and leaving many more injured and displaced from their homes.
The deadly forest fire passed through the region on July 29, 1916, burning 2,000 square-kilometres from Cochrane to New Liskeard. A small group of citizens came together on Friday morning, at Ambridge Drive in downtown Iroquois Falls, to mark the occasion.
At the gathering, they unveiled a new plaque commemorating the fire and shared the little known history of the impact this devastating blaze had on the town all those years ago. Bill Allan, a retired educator in Iroquois Falls, took it upon himself to gather as much history as he could about the day when several small fires in the region combined in a deadly inferno.
While the fire received national news attention at the time, Allan said there was little written in the press about how it affected Iroquois Falls directly — something he wanted to change.
“We were cut off from the press; they couldn’t get in because the rails were on fire,” he explained. “The reporters went to Matheson, they went to Cochrane, Ramore and Nushka (present day Val Gagné) but we were missed. So, we have nothing. There’s only four paragraphs about us — that’s why we’re doing this.”
Allan was joined by Alexa Wollan, director of the town’s Pioneer Museum, on Friday afternoon, and the pair chronicled the events leading up to the fire as well as its aftermath.
“There was 21 days of scorching heat without a drop of rain,” Wollan said. “The area was dry as tinder. There were fires all around being constantly ignited by falling embers.”
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