Once Upon a Time
'The 1908 Bruce Peninsula Bush Fire'
by Bob Johnston

May 20, 2016


Once Upon a Time

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I am going to try to write the story from memory. I was five years old and the memory of this fire with all its terror was so clearly emblazoned on my mind that even yet I can recall the picture in all its frightening horror and destruction.

The fire burned across half of Amabel and St. Edmund Townships and surrounding areas of the Peninsula. It came in from the west, starting near the Lake Huron shore and crossed to the waters of Georgian Bay, lying to the east. I will recall it as it was experienced by my family, one of many others who suffered the losses, dangers and setbacks which were to befall this area.

Perhaps at this point it would be well to recall the Bruce Peninsula of 1908. There was no centre road where Highway 6 is today. There was one road up the Lake Huron side and one up the Georgian Bay side, each starting at Wiarton. There were no cars then, all transportation on land being by horse-drawn vehicle. The bush for many miles of these roadways grew right up to the graveled portion, in many places forming a canopy over the head of the traveller.

Much of the clearing of land was taking place in the large Eastnor Township swamp about five miles west of our home. The bush areas, having been the scene of winter timbering operations each year, had acquired extensive coverings of dried and rotting brush on the forest floor. This became the fodder to lead and carry this fire. Thus, in August, 1908, after a prolonged period of heat and with a summer breeze freshening from the west, the fire began at the Eastnor swamp’s perimeter. At about ten o`clock in the forenoon, we noticed a rising column of smoke which quickly rolled over the whole of the western horizon.

Our parents realized this was going to be a bad fire and began to make hasty preparations to fight it and save what they could. The men rushed to remove portions of log and rail fences close to our buildings, got all animals and persons out of those structures, readied containers of water and instructed all the children to stay in one specified spot with our mother and older sister in the yard.

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At about eleven o`clock the smoke began to reach us, soon blotting out the sky and surrounding bush. This was the beginning of the frightening part of the fire now bearing down on us.

The sun began to fade and even it seemed now to be deserting us. Our home and the Bruce Peninsula was our whole world and it was being swallowed up and engulfed in an acrid pall of blinding smoke.

The heat from this fire began to reach us.

--- continued next month.


Condensed from an article written by Gordon F. Hepburn, and published in the 1969 Yearbook of the Bruce County Historical Society.

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