Disastrous fires followed settlement. Pioneers were in a hurry to clear their land by the fastest means possible – fire. They had no real understanding of the power and extent of a runaway fire. Often they found out the hard way.

In the autumn of 1784, about one year after the landing of those Loyalists who came in the month of October, 1783, the first of a series of great conflagrations with which Saint John and the province of New Brunswick have from time to time been visited, took place.

18th century Homestead ClearingA gentleman who had obtained a lot in the neighbourhood of the spot where the Centenary Church now stands, had cut the trees and piled the brush into heaps for burning. The summer had been one of great drought. Everything of a vegetable nature was as dry and as ignitable as tinder. The brush heaps only awaited the spark to burst into flame. The morning was calm with the slightest breath of air from the south. The owner, thoughtless of any dangerous consequences to himself or neighbours, started the fire.

The result was one of those disasters, such as have too frequently brought ruin and desolation to many of the fairest and most thriving parts of Canada. About noon the wind suddenly rose to a gale. The flames spread with fearful rapidity. Men quickly gathered from all directions with axe, pick, shovel or whatever implement was at hand, to make an attempt to stay the progress of the flames.

But the attempt was hopeless. By two o’clock in the afternoon the fire had spread eastward to Courtenay Bay and north to what is now known as Jeffrey’s Hill. Soon it leaped across the intervening valley and thence onward until the flames had lapped the water of the Kennebeccasis River destroying in their path, several miles in width, almost everything that would burn with the exception of one house. This was not saved by water, but by digging trenches around it.

Story courtesy of New Brunswick Ministry of Resources
Photo Credits:
New Brunswick Museum. Archives and Research Library [18th century Homestead Clearing]
Online Exhibits