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The Great Fire of 1916 on Parliament Hill
Frank Piekielko


On a bitterly cold evening on February 3, 1916, Members of Parliament were in the House of Commons to participate in an evening session when a fire started on one of the lower shelves in a Reading Room at 8:55 p.m. Four minutes later the first fire engine arrived on the Hill as flames engulfed the roof of Centre Block. At 9 p.m., the Chief Doorkeeper of the House of Commons alerted MPs by yelling, “There is a big fire in the Reading Room; everybody get out quickly!” Quick thinking by Librarian Michael Connolly MacCormac saved the structure from complete destruction when he dispatched a messenger to close its iron doors. At the stroke of midnight the bell in the Victoria Tower came crashing down. The fire raged towards the Senate by 12:45 a.m., but firefighters’ efforts to contain it allowed many pieces of art to be saved from the Senate side. It was 2:00 a.m. before firefighters had it under control (though it continued to smolder for much of the next day and flared up twice more). Seven people lost their lives in the Great Fire of 1916 and the Centre Block was in ruins. Reconstruction, which began later that year, and was completed in 1922 (with the Peace Tower being completed in 1927).

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Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 39 no 1

Last Updated: 2020-09-14