Once Upon a Time
'Bruce Peninsula Bush Fire of 1908: Part 2'
by Bob Johnston

June 17, 2016


Once Upon a Time

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[ To read ... Part 1 ]

I am writing this story from memory. I was five years old. The fire burned across the northerly half of Amabel Township, Albemarle, Eastnor, Lindsay, and the southerly half of St. Edmund Townships. It came from the west, starting near the Lake Huron shore and crossed to the waters of Georgian Bay. It was a hot, dry August day in 1908.

At about 11 o’clock on that morning, the smoke began to reach our farm, blotting out the bush and the sky. Our mother put wetted cloths over our faces and had us lie flat on the ground in the dooryard. We could hear timber crashing, occasionally a frenzied animal rushing madly by in the smoke. All this added to the sense of impending doom.

As the heat and smoke increased until it was almost unbearable, with embers falling around, firing our clothes at times, with the ground covered with ash as a light snowfall, we began to have difficulty in breathing.

At this time a very peculiar happening took place, a freak of nature or what you will. A wave of cold air rose off the Georgian Bay, confronted the wall of fire to the west of us and rolled back the heat and smoke. As I look back to that day, it seems as if that breeze might have saved us.

Soon after, the heat and smoke came down again and closed us in, but with less intensity. Shortly after this, the fire crowned over us, leaping forward as in an explosion, travelling over the clearing and catching on to the bush beyond to the east, racing toward Georgian Bay.

Now to view the damage---the loss of most of the fences, many haystacks, some buildings, many animals, and most serious, the loss of pasture for the surviving animals. Even the birds were scarce for several years after. With fences gone, grain and root crops so much needed for the winter, had to be protected from starving, roaming animals. I can remember, even at my age, having to herd our own animals, fire-driven strays and wild animals. At all costs, they must not be allowed to destroy the fodder, which would be in short supply for the coming winter.

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Often we would step in hot embers as we rushed over burned areas. Our bare feet would be blistered and our mother, before putting us to bed, would rub them with grease. There were lost animals to hunt and bring home. Many animals, while running in the smoke, had plunged over the cliffs, to die on the rocks below.

Now, we had to prepare for winter.

( to be continued.)

Adapted from an article written by Gordon H. Hepworth and published in the 1969 Yearbook of the Bruce County Historical Society.

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