Looking Back: T.O.’s real superheroes and 143 years of bravery and battling blazes


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Three firemen walk along Lansdowne Avenue north of Davenport Road (circa 1920)

Toronto’s firefighters once again proved their bravery in battling a massive six-alarm fire at the corner of Yonge and St. Clair last month. Dozens of firefighters aided in the effort. Thankfully nobody was killed. 

And we’ve been lucky enough to have such a fine group of folks protecting our town since 1874, when Toronto first began its fire service. At that time, it still included volunteers who had provided the growing city with its fire protection since 1831 when old horse-drawn pumper wagons drew water from Lake Ontario to fight local fires. 

No mention of Toronto’s firefighting history can be made without reference to the city’s Great Fires. One was a disaster in 1849. Much of the Market Block (as the business district was known) was destroyed by a massive blaze that killed one person and burned many wooden buildings to the ground. 

A second Great Toronto Fire took place in 1904 when more than 100 buildings were destroyed during the nine-hour battle that involved approximately 250 firefighters. 

The event prompted many changes to the local building code and to the city’s attitude toward fire prevention and firefighting, including the elimination of volunteer bucket brigades and an evolution to a professional service. First came motorized vehicles, which were added after 1910. For the next almost 70 years, fire trucks were all open-air. 

In 1923, the city got its first fire boat, a 50-foot wooden hulled craft, dubbed the Charles A. Reed, fitted with two motors — one for propulsion and one for the pump. 

Remnants of Station 3, Toronto’s oldest fire station at 488 Yonge St., can still be found. Namely, the clock tower the stands above the relatively non-descript buildings. Station 10, at 34 Yorkville Ave., is the oldest still in operation, dating back to 1876 and is currently home to TFS Station 312.

Once again, we thank those that put their lives on the line to protect our city and keep us safe.

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