The Great Vancouver Fire of 1886

Comments 6 by Rebecca Bollwitt

It was 124 years ago last Sunday (June 13th, 1886) that Vancouver was completely destroyed by fire. It began as a controlled fire to clear brush on the land, however it quickly spread out of control.

The Great Vancouver Fire of 1886

Vancouver before the Great Fire, Water Street 1886. Archives item #Str P8

The entire city (only a few months old at the time) was engulfed in flames within 45-60 minutes.

Day after the Great Fire, June 1886. Photo by Louis Denison Taylor. Archives item #CVA 1477-416

880 buildings were destroyed in Vancouver and 20 people lost their lives. Due to the wooden construction and lack of a fire brigade with equipment to battle the blaze, only stone or brick buildings in Gastown, Yaletown, and parts of the West End survived.

1886 - The Great Vancouver Fire

Quick facts:

  • After the Great Fire the City of Vancouver passed a by-law that all buildings be made of brick and stone only1.
  • Through fundraising afterward, Vancouver purchased its first fire engine and it was brought to town July 30th, 1886.
  • In 1929 Vancouver City Council named June 13th as “Vancouver Day” — a time of remembrance and thanksgiving2.
  • St. James’ Anglican Church at Gore and Cordova is the third church of this name. The very first burned down during the Great Fire and its melted bell now resides in the Museum of Vancouver.3

“In 20 minutes, Vancouver had been wiped off the earth. In 12 hours, it was rising again.” Chuck Davis, Vancouver History

Businesses in Gastown rebuilt 1 month after the Great Fire, July 1886. Archives item #Str P7

While only a few buildings from the original Vancouver townsite still exist today, it’s amazing to hear about how the city was rebuilt so quickly. Even today it seems as though Vancouver is in a constant state of construction. 124 years later we’re still an ever-changing city but at least we are building our own history as we go.

1 Vancouver History
2 Vancouver History
3 Vancouver History

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6 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. rachael chatoorTuesday, June 15th, 2010 — 9:40am PDT

    Awesome post Rebecca. Fascinating to see the photos. As a Vancouver born and raised girl, it’s fantastic to see the history. Interesting how they came to pass the bylaw that only brick/stone buildings were allowed.

  2. D BoothTuesday, June 15th, 2010 — 10:07am PDT

    Great work Rebecca,
    It is difficult to believe how quickly the city grew after this tragic event. In less than twenty years, Vancouver had become a big city. There are many 1920’s Vancouver photos on my site, (and only to be found on my site). There are almost fifteen hundred one of a kind original photos @, with a few hundred soon to be added. These will be of 1950’s Vancouver, all by a prominent photographer of the era. A new website is under construction. I also present one hour slide show lectures on these collections.

  3. Corey Allan HawkinsFriday, June 18th, 2010 — 1:19pm PDT

    The Warehouse Recording Studio and its basement was supposedly used as a temporary morgue for the 20 dead. If you go into the basement you can see the black lines on the walls as to where the fire was. People have often spoke of the warehouse being haunted. I myself along with my band members had some funny situations occur their.

    Also, The Cambie would have you believe that they are the oldest bar in the city. Not true. The file reached the Yale, stopped at its walls and turned the other way. The Yale is Vancouver’s oldest pub.

  4. EVENT: June 12, 125th Anniversary Celebration | Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services BandMonday, June 6th, 2011 — 12:15pm PDT

    […] to start out with), and then they lost everything when the city caught on fire and essentially burned to the ground (June 13), costing the lives of at least 21 people and leaving 2,000 others […]

  5. Two For The Show (June 13)Sunday, June 12th, 2011 — 10:26pm PDT

    […] this as an omen or not but, on this day in 1886, the City of Vancouver is nearly destroyed by a devastating fire.  Thanks to the recent arrival of the CPR into the city, recovery went very quickly (see cool, […]

  6. Tom McCaffertyWednesday, February 8th, 2012 — 9:48pm PST

    “In 1929 Vancouver City Council named June 13th as “Vancouver Day” — a time of remembrance and thanksgiving.”

    Why has there not been a, “Vancouver Day,” since. Lets have one this year. In 2012.

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