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FIRE RANGERS HIRED OVER 100 YEARS AGO faced formidable challenges. They were on the move looking for fire, promoting fire prevention, enforcing fire laws, and extinguishing fires.

Fire Rangers Camp, Ontario, 1896Character. On paper a fire ranger was required to be a man of rock-solid character. A ‘sober and industrious’ man, of good behaviour and judgment, with a ‘cool temper’ would be a good man to educate a sometimes indifferent public, and to enforce unpopular fire legislation.

Physical Stamina. Fire patrols were tests of strength and endurance. Rangers trudged over rugged terrain shouldering heavy packs, paddled and portaged canoes, rode horseback over narrow mountain trails, hand pumped railcars over miles of track, dug out fire break trenches, and hauled pail after pail of water to put out a fire. They coped with bugs, bad weather, accidents, and wild animals.

Bush skillsBush skills were essential. A fire ranger had to keep his bearings in the bush. He had to be able to use an axe to clear trails, set up camp, cook over an open fire, keep warm and dry, and treat any injuries he might suffer. And he might be required to handle a canoe, or ride horseback.

Loggers and trappers were ideal candidates for fire ranging because they had the necessary bush skills – but rangers did not always fit the mould. For example, famous Canadian painter Tom Thomson worked as a ranger during the summer of 1916 in Algonquin Park. Read his story in Tom Thomson - Fire Ranger & Landscape Painter.

Tom Thomson, Burnt Country, Oil on Board

AS KNOWLEDGE AND FIRE MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES advanced, the fire ranger went through a metamorphosis. Schools were set up to train staff for permanent positions. Women began to work in fire protection.

The handful of ‘lone’ rangers protecting Canada’s people and resources from fire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries evolved into the highly organized and specialized fire management agencies we see today.

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