This 1895 image shows the first location of the city’s first fire hall. The City of Vancouver owned the site because before the 1886 fire the police house was located here, with the jail alongside and set back from the street. Some years after this picture, when the replacement fire hall was built on Cordova Street, the name went with it (so it retained the name Firehall #1, in a different location).
The first engine was manufactured in Brussels, Ontario, with the name plate ‘M A MacLean,’ the name of the city’s first mayor, on the engine when it arrived. Among the people posing in 1895 were the fire chief, Chief Carlisle and William McGirr. The brand new City of Vancouver were only too aware of the threat of fire to their newly established city. There were were discussions in Council at the first meeting in May 1886 about equipping the fire brigade, and telegrams had been exchanged with Mr. Ronald, a manufacturer of fire equipment in Ontario, but the confirmation to purchase was only made at the first Council meeting eight days after the fire, on 22nd June 1886.
The order was for a 5,000 pound Ronald steam pumper with four hose reels and 2,500 feet of 2 and 1/2 – inch hose that cost the city $6, 905. It arrived in Port Moody in July 1886, where the rail line ended at the time, and it was dragged by a team of horses through the forest to Vancouver. That’s the engine on the right with its steam powered pump. The engine was eventually pulled by a team of horses, but those weren’t acquired for eight or nine months, and initially the firemen had to manhandle it to a fire, which was slow, and meant that the first serious blaze at Spratt’s oilery, a barge previously used to process fish for oil, had burned before they could get the pump into position (although they did ensure sparks from the fire didn’t catch anything else alight).
If the Council had the funds to purchase a fire engine, how was it that they couldn’t afford the horses to pull it? The answer is that they didn’t pay for the fire engine. In an early form of vehicle leasing, the Council Minutes of August 6th 1886 recorded “That this Council do accept the Fire Engine, Hose etc from John D. Ronald as Complete and according to agreement. And that this Council do agree to hand over to Messrs. McIntosh and McTaggart Brussels Ont. Our City Debentures for the sum of sixty nine hundred and five dollars payable in ten years and bearing interest at seven per cent, as soon as same are issued and we agree to issue the paid debentures as soon as this can be legally done. And that the City Clerk be instructed to give Mr. Ronald a Certified Copy of this resolution and that the City seal be attached thereto.”
For the Firehall needed to house the shiny new engine, more money had to be raised – but not nearly as much as it took to buy the engine. On July 26th 1886 it was agreed that “a Fire Hall be at once erected 24 x 30, 2 stories high, the 1st story to be 12 ft Clear and the 2nd 10 feet with a tower 55 feet high and 6 feet square on top and that the City Engineer be instructed to prepare plans and specifications so that tenders may be asked for at once. We would also recommend that a Fire Bell be purchased at once the cost not to exceed one hundred dollars”. On August 30th Council agreed to accept the tender of A.D. McKenzie to build the hall for $743.00.
The fire brigade moved to their new hall on Cordova Street around 1907, and for a while it looks as if their old premises were re-purposed for retail uses. In 1908 Jacob Cohen had a clothing business where the firehall had been, in a block that had several other Jewish merchants including Maurice Goldberg’s clothing store next door and Zebulon Frank’s secondhand store a little further up the street. The address disappears by 1914, and we suspect the site was cleared. In 1930 the Nagle Brothers Garage was built here, designed by McCarter & Nairne. It was developed by Ed Baynes of builders Baynes and Horie, and was probably the city’s first parking garage.
In 1972, the Garage became one of the first rehabilitation and adaptive re-use projects in Gastown, converted to retail and office space by architect H Tanner. An inner courtyard was created, surrounded by balconies and trees. Redeveloped again in 2009 as ‘Garage’ – one of four building restored and added to by Acton Ostry Architects for the Salient Group. Garage was the youngest of the buildings and the redevelopment added three extra residential storeys, with no setback (because of the poured-in-place construction of the original building) but with a clear delineation of the original cornice.