The Great Toronto Fire - Two Success Stories - Page Banner


Map showing Kilgour Brothers and Queen's Hotel

There were many heroes that night and many victories, both large and small, that helped determine the outcome of the fire. Perhaps none were more significant than the saving of the Kilgour Brothers' Building and the Queen's Hotel.

Kilgour Brothers' Building


Drawing: Additions to Factory, 21 Wellington Street West  Messrs Kilgour Bros., Toronto, (1886) (detail)
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Additions to Factory, 21 Wellington Street West
Messrs Kilgour Bros., Toronto, (1886) (detail)
Gordon & Helliwell Architects
Drawing
J. C. B. & E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-440-0-01 (421) 1
Archives of Ontario

A building belonging to the Kilgour Brothers was situated at 21-23 Wellington Street West. The company manufactured paper and cardboard products.

In the late 1870s they had added a five story addition to their existing factory. The drawing to the right shows an early sketch of the planned addition. What the drawing doesn't show is the two gravity-flow water tanks the Kilgours later installed on the roof of the building. The tanks supplied water to the sprinkler system installed throughout the building - one of the few buildings in the area to have one.

As the fire raged eastward along Wellington street, it became increasingly evident that if the fire made it to Yonge Street, it would become very much more difficult to contain.

Acting Fire Chief John C. Noble said, "if it had got hold in Yonge street, God knows where it would have stopped."
The Kilgour building became a pivotal one in the fight to stop the spread of the fire and the valiant employees of the company used the sprinkler system and water curtains to do just that.

With the exception of some minor damage to the top floor they stopped the fire from entering the building. Ultimately, it provided the first break in preventing the fire from reaching Yonge Street.

Drawing: Messrs Kilgour Bros. Premises, 21 Wellington St. W., Toronto, May 7, 1904
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Messrs Kilgour Bros. Premises,
21 Wellington St. W., Toronto, May 7, 1904
Burke & Horwood Architects
Drawing
J. C. B. & E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-1102 (883) 15
Archives of Ontario

Although the building suffered some fire and water damage, it wasn't long before the Kilgours could resume business.

By early May they already had preliminary drawings of renovations and reconstruction. Some of these drawings are shown here. They are good examples of light industrial buildings of the time period.

Drawing: Office & Warehouse for Messrs Kilgour Bros., 21 & 23 Wellington St. W., May 21, 1904
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Office & Warehouse for Messrs Kilgour Bros.,
21 & 23 Wellington St. W., May 21, 1904
Burke & Horwood Architects
Drawing
J. C. B. & E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-1102 (883) 6
Archives of Ontario

The Queen's Hotel


Lithograph: The Queens Hotel, Toronto
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The Queens Hotel, Toronto
Lithograph
J. C. B. & E. C. Horwood Collection
Reference Code: C 11-142-0-1 (356) 1
Archives of Ontario

As the fire progressed west along Front Street it approached the Queen's Hotel, one of the city's finest, which was situated at the approximate location of the current Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

By around 11:00 pm, all that separated the fire from the Hotel was a small park. Women guests were taken to other hotels throughout the city, as well as all the baggage and the hotel silver.

The hotel served as the normal residence for members of the Legislative Assembly who were from out of town and, since the government was in session, a number of MPPs were staying there. A few, including Lt. Col. James Pliny Whitney, who would become the next Premier of Ontario, decided to remain in the hotel even though the fire was literally at its doorstep.

Photo: Queen's Hotel, Front St., Toronto, [ca. 1890]
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Queen's Hotel, Front St., Toronto, [ca. 1890]
Josiah Bruce
Black and white negative
Reference Code: F 1125-1-0-0-155
Archives of Ontario, I0001903

Some of the MPPs pitched in and helped the firemen and staff members organize a bucket brigade. They filled bathtubs with water and, to try and prevent the fire from entering the building, they soaked blankets in water and then, opening the top half of the double-hung windows, they hung the blankets outside and closed the windows to keep the blankets in place.

They were able to keep the windows cool enough that the flames never entered the building. There was some damage to the roof and parts of the building ignited a couple of times but hotel staff were able to put it out before it took hold.

In the end, the building sustained only minor damage and it continued to be one of the city's finest hotels for another 20 years.