New Westminster has a history that is filled with stories about fire. We recently wrote of the city’s Great Fire of 1898, but there are quite a number of other blazes in the city’s story.
One of the early fires in this local area was not large but did cover some considerable land and property. In the course of the fire brigade fighting the blaze, they generated a story that not only created a high standard for fire response but also greatly enhanced their name – the Hyack Fire Brigade.
This particular fire occurred in May 1864, out towards Sapperton on the road that ran past the former Royal Engineers’ camp on the way to that northern area, not yet part of the city. The flames moved quickly, destroying some property and burning some folks out, though there were no injuries, and all pitched in to help.
The fire brigade responded, but this particular fire was just too fast. However, it is the effort made by the Hyacks that set their standard as the newspaper report described:
“Although the Fire Company did not arrive till the buildings were far gone, yet the quickness of their movements was none the less creditable to them. Precisely ten minutes from the time the first peal of the fire bell was heard a stream of water from the ‘Fire King’ was playing upon the flames. When it is remembered that the engine had to be drawn about a mile, and much of the way up a steep grade, this was wonderfully quick.”
We must remember that they were heading to this fire from the fire hall in the downtown portion of New Westminster. The fire brigade in 1864, pulled, by hand, the “Fire King” steam fire engine, from near the corner of Sixth and Columbia streets, along Columbia towards Sapperton to a position between Richmond Street at Columbia and the old B.C. Penitentiary wharf building in Sapperton Landing Park.
So there we have a relatively small fire in our local history, but a fire at which the Hyack Fire Brigade genuinely lived up to the meaning of the name “Hyack” – meaning “fast” or “hurry up.”