The Great Fire

Ninety-five years ago tonight, Parliament’s Centre Block was destroyed by fire—only the Library of Parliament surviving intact. The blaze left seven dead, including Bowman Brown Law, the MP for Yarmouth. Tom Korski reviews new analysis of what happened that night, including the only known film of the aftermath.

The Reading Room was panelled in tinder-dry white pine gleaming with flammable varnish; scores of accumulated newspapers hung in racks; shelves were piled high with leather-bound volumes. “It was a good place to start a fire,” a firefighter remembered. Within 30 seconds the blaze was so hot an extinguisher proved useless. Within minutes, the room was “like a furnace,” a witness said; “the flames were running on the floor.”

Fire climbed up the walls as woodwork exploded. The whole room, 22 metres long, seemed to ignite with “a roaring noise,” a doorkeeper recalled. Within three hours the building was lost. Among the dead were a policeman and the MP for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Bowman Law. “Poor fellow,” a friend wrote. “He was going back to get something and Fate asked him to give something — his life.”