The Origins of Nanaimo’s Fire Department

February 2nd, 2017

With roots going back nearly 150 years, Nanaimo’s Fire Department has a long history, starting with humble beginnings.

The first efforts to organize fire response started in the late 1800s. Local volunteers formed fire brigades and simply doused flames with buckets of water. Although a step in the right direction, these bucket brigades lacked organization and were often ineffective. During this time in Nanaimo’s history, the common use of wood and poor firefighting efforts led to many costly fires.

The Nanaimo Fire Company was officially organized in 1878. Also known as the Black Diamond Fire Engine Company No. 1, the group received government funding to aid their efforts and was well known in the province with one of the lowest fire records. A year later, the first fire hall opened at the corner of Wharf and Front Streets. Ironically, the hall was destroyed by fire in 1894 and the building was completely lost. The new station was built – this time with brick – shortly after.

City council took control of the Fire Department in 1901, a move towards the modern department as we know it today. Volunteers were replaced with paid staff, and they also had a set of horses to man the fire ‘truck’.

The Department was also one of the first in Canada to purchase a motorized fire apparatus. The fully-equipped fire trucks were purchased in 1913, pictured above with Cliff Michael, the Minister of Tourism. These trucks can still be seen today in the museum at Station #1 Nanaimo. For more info, check out (from the collection of the Nanaimo Archives)

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