(By Donald Fraser, Victoria, B.C.)
In the early fifties fire protection in Perth was very inefficient. A movement was made to repair this. Two fire companies were formed, one called the Union, of which Sam Bothwell was captain, and the other the Fountain, of which John Murray was captain. These companies were fifty or sixty strong, and I venture to say for physique could not be surpassed by any town in Canada. The Union uniform was red shirts and black trousers; the Fountain uniform, light blue jackets and white trousers. As may be expected rival feeling ran somewhat high at times. This feeling was not confined to the firemen alone by any means. Every citizen, young or old, ranged himself or herself on one side or the other. The East Ward to a man backed up the Fountain; the West Ward the Union. The Centre Ward no doubt was divided. The Union engine, a very superior machine, was imported from Montreal. The Fountain was of local manufacture, built at the foundry of George and Charles Miller.
A day came when the merits of these two engines must be tested. It was made a great occasion. A grand parade of the firemen in uniform drawing their engines took place, finally halting on Drummond street in front of W. O. Buell‘s property; this point was convenient for placing suction hose in the river. The captains mounted their engines, the boxes were filled and the trial began in earnest; “down with brakes,” “break her down,” rang out on both sides. Captains and men were wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement and exerted themselves to the utmost limit of their strength. For some time the contest seemed a draw as to the distance water could be thrown. Our hopes were running high that the Fountain men would put on a spurt and leave no room for doubt as to victory. The spurt was put on, but at the crucial moment the beam of the engine broke; thus ended at least one of the trials. Another beam was made and, if I remember rightly, it too, was broken. This would not surprise the present Perthites if they could see the men. Bob Caldwell, Bob and John Arkinson, Pat and Tom Cosgrove, Felix Harishaw, Ned Connolly, and I think Hon. John G. Haggart, was a member of the Fountain company. Capt. Murray, like Frederick the Great, had an eye for big men. Not satisfied with mere trials, vacant buildings had to be burned to further test the efficiency of the rival companies. McFarlane‘s old foundry, at the end of the long bridge, was burned and the old Roman Catholic church. At the latter fire, George Miller, one of Perth’s most esteemed citizens, was killed. This put a stop to any further burning of old buildings for some time.
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