Early Fires in Elk Point
During the pioneer years, the residents of old Elk Point had no fire fighting equipment whatsoever. Whenever a fire broke out and went undetected for even a short period of time, there was no way the fire could be put out. Many people lost their homes or places of business simply because fire fighting equipment was lacking.
During the early years, homes and places of business were fueled by wood and coal. Many. times an overheated stovepipe or faulty chimney caused a serious fire.
The method of fighting a fire during the early years was by using a bucket brigade. Water was drawn from a well or dugout, and those fighting the fire would each grab a pail of water and hurl it against the burning building. Often a well or dugout went dry before the fire was put out, and unless another nearby well was available, the building was usually destroyed. During the early years our hamlet had no way of notifying the residents when a fire broke out. Usually one or more people would run through the hamlet and try to arouse as many people as possible. It was difficult to fight a fire under these conditions, especially during the winter months when wells or dugouts were frozen over, making it more difficult to obtain a much needed water supply.
Our early residenti, knowing they had little fire protection. used every precaution available to them, however fires still broke out from time to time.
Elk Point's biggest fire, which was reported in the March 1, 1922 edition of the Edmonton Journal, destroyed the entire block of buildings situated on the street north of our present day Petro Canada Service centre (SE corner of 50 Avenue and Hwy. 41). The buildings destroyed were: Elk Point's community hall, the Canadian Bank of Commerce building, C. J. Markstad's Implement Shop and Ford Agency and Charles Hood's hardware store and post office. The nearby Caskey Hotel was saved mainly by an existing alley and a super effort by the members of the bucket brigade. The Bank of Commerce vault had a considerable amount of money in it, however, because of the intense heat it was left to cool for about two days. Later when inspected. it was found that the vault was not locked. Apparently whoever was in charge of the bank operations got excited and left the premises when the fire broke out and neglected to lock it.
Another fire that broke out shortly after the big fire of 1922 was the one that destroyed Oran Caskey's garage located in the east portion of our hamlet. In 1928, fire destroyed the United Church, which was located on the lot south of the present Onusko residence (5125 Hwy. 41). At the time it was used as a church as well as a school.
In the early 1920s, another fire destroyed the H. Plante Hotel. It was located in the vicinity of where our present day United Church is located.
Another major fire occurred in 1939. This fire consumed a number of buildings on Main Street. The following buildings were destroyed: William Soldan’s garage and implement shop, a blacksmith shop, Bruce MacDonald’s Drug Store and Reva Morton’s beauty shop.
Still another fire broke out on December 7, 1941. It destroyed the old C.A. Johnson store, which at that time was owned by Andy Miller, as well as the Economy Store which was owned by John Leteplo, both these buildings were situated on the lots that now house the Toronto Dominion Bank (SE corner of 50 Street and 49 Avenue). The nearby Pioneer Hotel (the old Caskey Hotel) was saved by the many volunteer firefighters. Had this hotel not been saved, the entire portion of Main Street to the south probably would have been destroyed also.
Numerous homes in old Elk Point were also destroyed by fire over the years. Although the residents of our hamlet had very little protection from fires because fire equipment was lacking, the many residents in our outlying areas were even worse off than we were. When a fire broke out on a farm, most people were helpless. They didn't have phones at the time and before help could be summoned it was much too late to save any of their buildings.
Protection from fires improved somewhat after Elk Point installed water works during the early 1950s. Fire hydrants were then installed and a fire truck was purchased. When a volunteer fire department was organized, protection from fires finally became a reality.