Forest Fire Of 1955 Near Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada (In 2005, on the 50th anniversary of the devastating forest fire of 1955, many people very kindly emailed recollections and photographs. Joel Page provided some pictures taken by Graham Powell, and Tim McDonald supplied other pictures and copies of newspaper clippings about the fire, and the fundraising efforts that followed.)
The 1955 fire started near Five Rivers, west of the Town of Liverpool on the Victoria Day weekend, Saturday, May 21, 1955. On the first day, it burned south to Highway 3 where it stopped. The following day, on Sunday, May 22, it jumped the highway and burned toward Western Head. About 2,500 men fought the fire that covered 12 square miles, destroying close to 100 buildings and some fishing vessels.
From: Sheila D. Smith, Toronto, originally of Brooklyn I was just a child at the time but I recall being out for a drive with my family when we were stopped somewhere on the White Point Road as the fire was just about to jump across the road. It was pretty scary with fire all around us. I have no memory of details of destruction but simply recall the atmosphere of fear that we would lose the town. My most vivid memory was of the cooperation of all residents. Seems all able bodies volunteered on a shift basis. There was such a wonderful pulling together of the residents in this crisis -- a fine demonstration of community spirit. One thing I recall which still impacts me today is the fact that The Salvation Army made such a major contribution. They actually rode on the equipment back into the woods right to the firefighters with meals. This made such an impression on me that to this day I couldn't refuse them a donation.
From: Sherri (Wigglesworth) Miller, Summerville Centre, originally of College Street, Liverpool I remember, well, the fire that went through in 1955. Mostly, I recall how afraid we were as the fire was really very close to us; the woods were almost in our backyard. There was a fire truck right in our backyard wetting down our roof as the sparks were coming that far through the air and landing on our house. When you are a kid that is very scary plus a little exciting at the same time having fire trucks with lights flashing and firemen in your yard.
From: Karen Crouse, Jeffrey's, Newfoundland One's childhood memories can be blurred or quite clear. Although we lived in Centre, Lunenburg County, a very long distance away from Liverpool for me at that time, this fire has left a burning memory. I was taking piano lessons and not doing very well, not practicing, etc. My mother was not very pleased that my interest level wasn't great. After this fire that had destroyed many houses, there was a picture in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald of a girl standing outside the charred remains of her home, sad at the loss of her piano. Mother, trying to scare me into practicing more said, "I have a good mind to send our piano to that girl. She will get more use of it than you will." That girl was Nancy (Myra) Anthony. Later when I had move to Liverpool, I met Nancy and through conversation learned that she was the girl in that newspaper picture. Seeing your article on the 50th anniversary of the fire again reminded me of the threat to give our piano away. I never really learned to play the piano but it remained in the family and now my grandson is learning to play on the very same piano.
From: Peggy (Wigglesworth) Anderson, Redwood City, California , originally of College Street, Liverpool I remember the fire in 1955 as if I were still standing out on the front lawn and smelling the smoke. We lived on College Street and I remember the awful smell and also my Dad was up on the roof with the hose to keep the sparks off the roof. I remember getting up that morning and my Dad telling me the fire had jumped the road and how bad it was.
From: Donna (Sprague) Murray, Hunts Point, originally of Liverpool I was about 7 or 8 during that fire and we lived on Union Street in Liverpool. I remember my mother and all of our neighbours were out hosing water on the roofs of the houses so the hot ash and burning debris wouldn't be able to catch fire on them. My father was a fireman and was gone for a few days working that one. I also remember him having both hands bandaged when he did get home, so he must have been burned. Thank heavens we didn't have too many like that.
From: Charles "Bucky" Norman, Liverpool, originally of White Point Road I was just a child when the fire swept through but I remember it like yesterday. We were living in a house on the White Point Road (where Whynot's garage is now) when we were told to evacuate the area. I can remember we left in such a hurry the stew was still cooking on the stove and we were not allowed to take anything with us. We went in closer to Town and stayed with an uncle who was living just up from George Street (around where the Barnes live now) and waited to see what would happen. At that time they thought the fire was going to come right into the Town but the wind shifted and it crossed the road and went out Western Head way. I remember the terrible thick smoke hanging over the area, the bits of embers flying around and the roaring noise the fire made. When we were allowed to return home but there was nothing left. I remember the ice house was not completely destroyed, chickens were kept in it after the fire. There were no big trees near our house but the wind blew embers onto the house and ignited it. It seemed strange during the forest fire how some of the houses next to our house did not burn but ours did and at least one other in that area. Thank god for the Salvation Army as we had lost everything, needed a place to live etc. and they helped find lodging, furniture, clothing for our family. To this day, I will help the Salvation Army anyway I can. They were the only ones to come to our aid at that time. It sounds like too little when you write it down but it was a huge event in a child's life and the waiting to see if and when the fire would reach our area was intense. That possibly was the reason I joined the Fire Department when I was old enough and stayed in for 16 years.
From: Janet (Frelick) Fletcher, Mersey Point I was 5 when the fire went through but all the years growing up in Mersey Point the fire was the topic of many conversations. The stories have been passed down to our generation and now the following generations. My Mom often spoke of that day. My Dad was away on a fishing trip and she with three small kids and another on the way were moved out with great haste, clothes and anything they could grab was put into the wringer washer, boxes, armfuls and loaded on trucks; strangers helping any way they could to save what they could. She went to her mother's. On returning and unpacking what was put on the truck, Mom said some of the things they packed were not much good anyway. Mom said that when they returned and looked at the surroundings, everything was black and burnt, some areas untouched and others just lay in ashes. Our house was saved, along with the community hall we lived next to, and my grandparents house across the road. The hall was used as the school as the school was burned in what was Moose Harbour. My grandparents' house was close enough to the fire that their dining room window cracked from the heat from the barn next door that was burned. They never replaced the cracked window while they lived in the house. There were people my step dad talked about at the harbour who had gone down to save the boats and ended up jumping into the water to save from being burned themselves. Again thanks for all you do, we and many people so appreciate your efforts. Note: Janet's parents were Arthur and Viola Frelick, (her Dad drowned in a pleasure boating accident a year later, May 6, 1956). Her grandparents were John L. and Gladys Frelick. Her stepfather was Maurice S. Frelick who owned a fish house in Moose Harbour that was lost along with many others.
From: David Paterson, London, Ontario, originally of Liverpool While I remember the fire in general terms, I have very few specific memories: The glow in the sky, at night, over the town, seen from the mill in Brooklyn. It was a bit like a very angry sunset. One of the fire trucks at the head of Meadow Pond Lane, with a crew of about three men. They must have known that they could only make a valiant effort, if the wind changed and drove the fire down on them. And the weird feeling that we were cut off from Bridgewater, by at least two fires. And the devastation afterwards, at Mersey Point and around Western Head. Anna Heartz playing the Moonlight Sonata at a benefit concert at the Astor Theatre. Perhaps the strongest memory is of the tension that everyone felt, because no one could predict what the wind would do. In the event, it carried the fire across the back of the town, from the area of the town lake, to the western shore of the harbour, around Moose Harbour. But a change of about 30 degrees would have meant that most of the town would have burned.
From: Nancy (Payzant) Hanley, Dartmouth, originally of Liverpool Yes, I remember it well. I was 11 years old and lived on Waterloo Street across from the high school playing grounds. I remember someone coming to the house saying there was a forest fire uptown and coming this way. A bunch of kids ran up the hill behind our house to the "Manthorne Field", the highest point behind the house and watched for a long time until the smoke became to thick to see anything. That night a fire truck was in our back yard because they had fear of the fire breaking toward the town. The next night my father took us for a drive along the Mersey Point Road and I remember seeing the houses burned, Jordan Myra's barn was gone and as we drove toward Western Head smouldering trees on both sides of the road. When visiting Liverpool one year I purchased a photo from a craft shop showing a beach rock scene and in the middle of the photo there is a burned stump of a tree. I remember that tree very well and it is still standing there. I remember how sad it was for the people who lost their homes on White Point Road and especially the ice house and homestead next to it.
From: Charlotte (Rafuse) Pomroy, Ottawa, originally of Liverpool Mary, my recollection of that fire is that my father, Charlie Rafuse, and others spent several days trying to save the homes of people at Mersey Point. They were successful in saving some, including that of his friend, Clarence Levy.
From: Barry Dixon, Ridgetown, Ontario (and a home owner in Port Mouton) Hi, Mary, Yes, I recall the devastation resulting from the fire. Although I was not quite age five, I recall driving along highway three a couple weeks after the fire and my Dad pointing out to us where the houses had been which had burned down. However, the thing I most remember is the reconstruction of some of the homes. I do not know how long after the forest fire that people started reconstructing their homes. But, I recall watching with fascination as they did so. I have always admired the spunk and determination of those people. I believe I am correct that several homes along that stretch of highway three are those built in the aftermath of the fire. Therefore I recall people's determination and resilience as much as the direct effect of the fire.
From: Charlotte (Boudreau) Agapas, Belleville, Ontario, originally of Liverpool Hi Mary: I remember that weekend very well. From our sun porch, my parents noticed the small plume of smoke when the fire first started and thought it appeared to be near the town lake area. In those days, it was not unusual to burn off the dead "scrub-bush" at the lake. The family had planned a trip to Gull Island. As we drove out White Point Road, we could see the smoke was now much thicker and covered a larger area, but that still raised no great concern. However, just past the wide turn before the railroad crossing, near Gull Island Road, my father decided it would be wiser to return to Liverpool. He turned the car in the middle of the road (remember how narrow that road was?). After driving about 100 yards or so past the corner, from the rear window we saw the fire as it crossed the road. To us, being younger, it was thrilling and exciting but our parents didn't share the same point of view. As soon as we arrived home, my father and my brother left for the fire hall, in case they were needed. My mother, as well as the neighbour-ladies started making sandwiches, soup, coffee, etc. I don't know who organized the collection and distribution of the foods, etc. Someone arrived at the house to collect it and we would start the process over. Since they had left in the morning, we hadn't seen or heard from my father and brother. Gradually, we received news of their whereabouts from whoever collected the foods. At one point, my father who was a fisherman, was asked by the Mounties if he would go to his boat and ready it, should he be required to help evacuate people from Moose Harbour area. When they eventually returned home, my father and brother were dirty, sooty, smelly, aching and tired. My brother, like anyone unaccustomed to fighting a forest fire, had blistered hands from the water pumps. However, bandages, a bath, clean clothes, hot food and sleep was all they needed to recuperate. I seem to remember that the fire burned for several days. From our dubious vantage point on the corner of Waterloo Street and White Point Road, we watched the constant flow of police cars, fire trucks and a variety of vehicles with firefighters. Because the winds kept changing directions, and the fire was burning on many "fronts", the men were shifted from one place to another as required. There was a huge pine tree in the wooded area between my home and Western Head. The fire, driven by the shifting winds, threatened it. Unknown to my mother, two days in a row, I stood on a big boulder on a hill, about a mile into the wood, waiting for the tree to burn. It never did. After a rain fall, my siblings and I walked into the woods and found the fire burned around the tree and only scorched the bark. I'll bet the tree still stands today. The yellow haze, that made eyes sting and caused coughing, permeated everything. Even keeping doors and windows closed was no defence from it. It hung over the town for a long time. My mother used to say the one good thing that comes after a forest fire is a great blueberry crop. Realizing that people lost homes and possessions made us aware of how lucky we and many others were. My sister and her family who live in Kelowna, British Columbia, lived through a similar event a couple of summers ago. The events of 1955 have instilled in me a very healthy respect for fire and it's destructive nature.
From: Craig Condon, Milton Mary: When I looked at your special web page about the Western Head fire this morning, it reminded me of a personal story my mother (Marilyn Condon) shared with me the other day on the occasion of my older sister Carolyn's 50th birthday. I thought you might like to share it with your readers. At the height of the fire on May 20, 1955, my mother gave birth to her first child at Queens General Hospital--my older sister Carolyn (now Mrs. Glen Lundrigan, and living in Markham, Ontario). She was very sickly when she was born, and had to be placed in an incubator. There was quite a bit of smoke from the fire at the time, and Mom wondered how she was going to get the baby out of the hospital if it had to be evacuated!!! She said that she didn't realize that the hospital staff would help her in that event. A side note: My brother-in-law (Glen Lundrigan) is the step-grandson of the late Hector and Nita MacLeod (who, according to your web page, also lost their cottage in the fire).
Jordan Myra's Family Lost Everything Barb Dorey of Mersey Point shared some details of the 1955 fire told to her by neighbour Jordan Myra, now 94 years old. Jordan Myra was a dairy farmer who lost everything (all personal belongings and the home and the barn) save the cattle or milking cows (they weren't in the barn at time of fire). Jordan then moved his family into a shed or garage that a neighbour offered and recollects that the Municipality Of Queens donated two sums of money raised to help him start over and they are as follows: $3,900. donated for building his home (which he later gave to his daughter Aleta who lives there still and $1,500. donated towards building a barn. Jordan also said it cost him $14,000. to build his home (and that was not completely finished) and about $5,000. to build the barn. He continued to milk cows and deliver milk. Three years after the fire and the day he broke the good news to his wife, Dorothy, that they were again debt free and could breathe easier, Jordan was constructing some electric fences when tragically he lost his left eye (his good one). Jordan, now a widower, is very active yet recalls that he became extremely depressed for a long time and it wasn't until a nurse talked to him and confronted him about living or giving up that he came out of the pitiful state that he was in. He now has a glass eye. Barb Dorey said her neighbour proclaims and is an example of good strong character and he has proven this a few times. He exercises regularly to a routine that was shown him years ago by physiotherapist and this keeps him limber and strong.
Do You Have Recollections Of This Fire? Share them by emailing them to QCT. Click here.