The Twentieth Century - Part 1

By 1906, the village had grown to include five general stores, the three-storey Connelly Hotel and a number of trades shops, as well as a bakery, jewellery store, a tailoring business opened by A. Leblanc in 1893 and a library. Wales had the only barbershop in the area as well as both a doctor and a dentist. There were also two dressmakers and another tailor. For such a small village, Wales was growing rapidly and well served by a variety of businesses and services, but it was about to receive a shocking wake-up call.

On the evening of September 21, 1906, around 7 p.m., a spark flew from Jacob Brassard's chimney and within minutes the Brassard house and bakery were engulfed in flames. To make matters worse, there was a high wind was fanning the flames and, apart from buckets, Wales had no fire-fighting equipment. They immediately placed a call to Dr. W. B. Cavanagh, the Mayor of nearby Cornwall, begging for assistance. The G.T.R. even offered a flatcar to transport the fire engines. The call proved to be in vain and was withdrawn once it was realized that the village's wells were so dry there wasn't enough water to feed the engines. The fire spread quickly through three buildings on the east side of Main Street and then jumped the street over to the west side and attacked three more buildings.

Main StreetMain Street [ca. 1905]

Much of Wales' business section was destroyed on that tragic night, including Fred Warren's general store and the storehouse he leased from B. Sherwood, T. Fetterly's jewellery and the Brassard bakery and home. Especially hard-hit was Mrs. A. Blackburn, who owned a three-storey commercial building on the west side of Main Street. The ground floor was leased to Mrs. Bigelow who ran a general store and millinery, the second floor was used as a dwelling by the Blackburns and the third floor, occupied by the Masonic Lodge. Mrs. Blackburn had no insurance on the building or their personal contents and lost almost everything. Mrs. Bigelow and the Masons were more fortunate. Most of the millinery stock was saved and the Masons had insurance on their furnishings and other contents.

The fire raged and roared through much of the night. The ghoulish spectacle was witnessed as far west as Morrisburg. Many of the villagers escaped to the countryside to avoid the smoke and heat. According to one account, very few of the villagers actually helped fight the fire. There was also a considerable amount of looting. Newspaper accounts of the day were highly critical of the villagers' behaviour.

However amidst the apathy and thievery were stories of heroism. J.D. Colquhoun, whose home contained both the post office and public library, moved all the contents to a nearby field. His home was among those that were saved. McKenzie Morgan was not as lucky. His home was completely destroyed but the contents were salvaged. The bucket brigade fought valiantly for almost five hours and had the fire under control shortly before midnight. The fire was said to have had a lasting impact on all who witnessed it.