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The Great Fire in Fredericton, 1850 – Early Accounts

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The Great Fire in Fredericton, 1850 – Early Accounts

Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, “Wesleyan Missionary Notices”, Vol. XI, 1851, pages 14, 15. Available in full-view at Google books:

“New Brunswick.

Calamitous fire at Fredericton.

Extract of a letter from the Rev. Richard Knight, dated St. John’s, November 12, 1850.”

“I am sorry to be the agent of communicating to you the painful news which reaches me from Fredericton this morning. The city has been visited with an awful fire. Among the buildings consumed, are our large and commodious chapel, and the Mission House for which the Trustees paid, some few months since, the sum of £450. On the chapel there is the sum of £600 insured. The house having been recently purchased, I cannot say if anything is insured, or otherwise, on that property. I hope the Trustees have been sufficiently prudent to do so. And what makes the case more calamitous is, so many of our principal friends have been burnt out : this, for our cause, is a heavy stroke indeed. I must proceed, as soon a practicable, to the scene of this disastrous providence. I have not received any particulars yet, from Mr. Temple. The beautiful organ, in the providing of which Mrs. Alder took and active part, has been saved : on that there was insured the sum of £100; so that, though it is doubtless damaged in the removal, it will be repaired by the underwriters. Their fine-toned bell is a silent melted mass. The furniture of the Mission-house has been saved, and the windows of the chapel, and some other things in part. Rumour says that from one hundred to one hundred and fifty buildings have been consumed.”

“On my return, I shall be able to lay before you the circumstances of this awful providence more particularly. The fire originated, it is said, in a barn not far from the Mission-premises, and broke out about mid-day. Our only trust is, that God will open up our way to provide a place for our large congregation again to worship in.”

Smith, T. Watson, “History of the Methodist Church Within the Territories Embraced in the Late Conference of Eastern British America”, Vol. 2, Halifax, 1890, pages 334, 335. Available in full-view at Google books:

“A sore trial befell the Methodists in Fredericton in 1850 in the destruction by fire of both church and parsonage. At the final service – a prayer meeting – held in the church, the hallowed influence felt far exceeded the measure for some time enjoyed. In less than eighteen hours from that time a congregation of eleven hundred persons and a large Sunday-school had no longer a place for united worship. A spark from a workman’s tobacco-pipe had been the agent in the destruction of property spread over many acres and estimated at a value of eighty thousand pounds. ‘Some of our friends,’ the superintendent, William Temple, wrote, ‘who saw their own uninsured residences in flames, without an expression of sorrow, sat down and wept when they heard of the destruction of the beautiful building in which for years they had worshipped.’ The organ was with great difficulty saved in a slightly damaged state, and was placed in the later church, whence in 1881 it was transferred to a Roman Catholic chapel in the province of Quebec. Throughout 1851 services were held in accordance with a kind offer in the Presbyterian church, and subsequently in the Temperance hall. In December, 1852, a few months after the arrival of Charles Churchill, a new sanctuary was formally set apart for worship. It still stands, its uplifted hand with index finger pointed heavenward from its lofty and graceful spire – an attractive sight to every visitor approaching town. It had cost a little more than five thousand pounds, all the members of the congregation at a time of serious financial depression having put forth the utmost effort. On a cloudless day in December, 1851, Judge Wilmot, who had taken a prominent part in the erection of the new church, threw upon his beautiful grounds at Evelyn Grove for the first of a succession of public gatherings in behalf of the building fund, the first two of which enabled him to place nearly nine hundred pounds in the hands of the trustees.”

The sequel of this trial was a pleasant surprise to the sufferers and sympathizers; to those who had looked upon the destruction of the church building as equivalent to that of the denomination in Fredericton it proved a severe disappointment. No revival in the history of the town has exceeded in importance that which early followed the completion of this work of self-denial. The influence of continued meetings begun early in March soon pervaded the town. Ball-rooms were emptied, dancing-clubs were broken up, and even work shops and places of business where noise and profanity had been the rule, solemnity and serious feeling became evident to all. Early in April more than two hundred persons had been received on trial, and besides nearly two hundred persons at the Sunday-school had been placed in church classes.”

From the blog of the York Sunbury Historical Society at

 Watercolour of the Methodist Church on Carleton Street, 1840

The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1852 (sic.), Boston, 1851, page 346. Available in full-view at Google books:

“Nov. 11 – A fire breaks out at Fredericton, New Brunswick, and destroys four entire blocks in the centre of the city. Between 200 and 300 houses, many of the principal stores, with their contents, and also the Wesleyan church, are burned.

Ecclesiastical Gazette, or, the Monthly Register of the Affairs of the Church of England and its Religious Societies and Institutions”, Vol. XIII, 1851, page 158. Available in full-view at Google books:

“The Lord Bishop of Fredericton, in a letter, dated Fredericton, Nov. 20, 1850, wrote as follows:-

‘On Monday, Nov. 11, one of those frightful fires which often take place in our wooden cities raged in Fredericton, borne on by a strong north-west wind, and 122 houses were totally destroyed in a few hours. The churches happily escaped. It was feared at one time that the whole town would be destroyed. This calamity will obviously throw us back in money matters, for the merchants will require all they can get to rebuild their stores. I hope it may eventually be good, by learning them to build of brick or stone. We are at present organizing committees for the relief of the sufferers.’”


“His Lordship in a letter dated December 4, 1850, said:- ‘I return my very grateful thanks to the Society for its kindness in adding to the grant for the Cathedral. You will easily suppose what trouble the mad fire had thrown us into. However, the inhabitants have come forward with energy and liberality; the sum of 300 has been at once subscribed for the relief of the sufferers, and an active committee is at work. I am also in great hopes that most of the wooden houses will be replaced by brick or stone, so that good will come out of evil.’”

Bailey, Alfred G., ed., “Letters of James and Ellen Robb”, Acadiensis Press, 1983, Letter Dated November 24, 1850, from Ellen Robb, Pages 105-107. Extract:

“My dear Mama and Sister,”

“I suppose you will have received before this reaches you, a paper which we sent to you containing an account of a very bad fire here which has destroyed the best part of Fredericton and left nearly half of the inhabitants without house or home. It is vey very sad, especially just at this Season of the year, when everyone has scraped together all that they  possibly could, to carry them through the long long winter; still it might have been worse, for if the river had been closed, it would have prevented any communication with St. John for some time, and we really might have been in great distress for provisions, for very great quantities of flour and necessaries of all sorts were destroyed, being thrown out of the shops and burnt before they had time to take them to a place of safety. Fortunately for us, our distance from the town saved us, and we ought to be very thankful that not only we, but all at the Parsonage escaped the sad fate of many friends and acquaintances, some of whom have lost not only their house, but all their clothes and furniture besides. You who live in cities built of brick and stone can hardly imagine the frightful rapidity with which a fire spreads over a place, where every house is of wood, and as was the case here, after a long continuousness of dry weather. The fire here lasted about three hours, and in that time about 130 houses were burnt, besides barns, stables and sheds. It is a curious thing that our new gas works had just been completed, and the principle street along the river bank had been lighted with it for two or three nights only…”.

“There was a subscription made for the very poor people who had suffered from the fire directly, and almost all the ladies of the place have been very busy every day this week, making clothes for them, so that I hope they will be made tolerably comfortable. I am afraid that I must have tired you with this very long and circumstantial account, but really it is uppermost in all our thoughts at present, and you cannot conceive a more deplorable looking place than Fredericton is at present, with all its blackened ruins and desolate looking chimneys standing in all directions. There is no idea of beginning to build again till the Spring at any rate, and some people say that it ought not to be attempted till they can put up brick buildings – how it will be is not decided yet, but of course nothing can be done during the winter…”.

Anglo-American Magazine, Vol. 1,Toronto, 1852, page 864. Available in full-view at Google books:

“Fredericton is rising renewed from the effects of the fire, and even now presents an appearance of beauty and substantiality which would make us very loth to say (if we could) ‘as you were’ on November, 1850. If the Fathers of the last generation could walk up Queen Street as it is they would be sorely puzzled to believe themselves in Fredericton. Some of the old familiar places have been wonderfully ‘purified by fire,’ and the handsome ranges of lofty and elegant buildings which Messrs. Barker, Doherty, and McTavish and Hatheway & Small have had the taste and spirit to erect, afford evidence of large advance upon Fredericton architecture of the last age. Above and below and behind these handsome structures, others of less pretensions, yet of very considerable value and beauty abound in great numbers, and in every progress, attesting the courage and the independence of our people, and proving that, as a community, we are making profit of a loss.”

Journals of the House of Assembly of the Province of New Brunswick, February to April, 1851, page 269. Available in full-view at Google books:

“And they also agreed to:”

“The bill to authorize the issue of Treasury Debentures to raise money for the purpose of being loaned for rebuilding part of the City of Fredericton destroyed by fire in the month of November 1850.”

Other Sources

An excellent description of events can be found in the Fredericton Fire Fighters Museum Online at

Written by johnwood1946

December 15, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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