Mac’s Musings: Spectacular fire remains a Halloween mystery

Claude McIntosh ~ Mac's Musings
Mac’s Musings: Spectacular fire remains a Halloween mystery
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Claude McIntosh.

A 1961 Halloween night fire that left the five-story, 80-year-old former Stormont Mill on the south bank of Cornwall Canal a smouldering shell had fire and police officials scratching their heads for a cause.

The fire was soaked in Halloween Eve mystery.

Empty since the mill, owned by Canadian Cottons Ltd., shut down in 1953, the building had been cleaned out of equipment and the power long before disconnected which raised questions about how the fire could have started.

The fire was called the most spectacular since the Aug. 7, 1933 fire that destroyed a large section of the downtown.

For the first hour of the fire officials considered evacuating the 115 MacDonell Memorial Hospital patients. The hospital was just 100 yards south of the blaze which sent red hot flaming embers hundreds of feet into the air and over Water Street. It could be seen far away as Long Sault. Volunteers manned the hospital roof with fire extinguishers and the Charlottenburgh Fire Brigade was called in to help. The threat ended when the southerly wind shifted. The blaze attracted an estimated 10,000 spectators.

The first theory was that the fire was set by Halloween pranksters. But days later, as the investigation wrapped up, Fire Chief Lucien Carriere offered a different possibility. He noted that a crew had been in the building earlier in the week dismantling the sprinkler system with cutting torches. Investigators believed that tiny sparks could have landed in a foot-deep pile of debris where they smouldered until igniting.

However, no official cause was determined and the door was left open to the possibility it was arson.

The fire sealed the fate of the annual Santa Claus parade which was up in the air. All 16 parade floats stored in the building were lost.

After 40 years in the restaurant business, J. J. McDonald who owned and operated Shirley’s Restaurant on Second Street West, a skip-and-a-hop east of Augustus Street, sold to a Montreal group who kept the name but re-opened as a Chinese restaurant. (It is now called the Panda House).

Shirley’s was a favourite haunt/meeting place for local students and young people.

McDonald opened his first Shirley’s restaurant in Alexandria in the 1920s but after a few years moved to Cornwall on Second Street East just across from St.

John’s Presbyterian Church. The site became home to the Jade Garden Restaurant when Shirley’s re-located to the Colonial Coach bus terminal next to Ed Warner’s Garage which was adjacent to the Cornwallis Hotel. The garage and terminal were destroyed in a 1951 fire. The new terminal became part of an addition to the Cornwallis Hotel and Shirley’s moved next door to its final site, now the Panda House.

Another favorite haunt for students came to a close this week in 1961 when James Lebano sold his building at Fourth and Amelia Streets that doubled as a home and convenience store to the collegiate school board. The property was needed to expand the CCVS athletic field. The school didn’t have an athletic field and used the Athletic Grounds for home football games and track meets. Lebano built the house in 1923. At first the store was in a front room but later an addition served as the store.

The building was purchased from the school board by city resident Lloyd Rousseau and moved up the street just north of Fifth street where it still sits.

ALSO THIS WEEK IN 1961 – City council ratified an agreement with Niagara Gas Transmission Co. for a pipeline on a portion of Brookdale Avenue and over the new international bridge to the United States. … The 90-year-old CNR station at Ninth and Sydney Streets was demolished. The biggest crowd to gather at the station was in 1939 when the Royal Train carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a cross-Canada tour stopped for several minutes. …. The cornerstone for the new OPP District 11 headquarters in Long Sault was laid. The $248,000 building replaced the outdated and crowded headquarters at 135 Augustus St. just south of Second Street. … Holy Cross Secondary School at the end of Anthony Street officially opened. It had 115 students. … Members of the Osnabruck District High School girls’ softball team that won the inter-school championship were Helen Beckstead, Carol Harding, Gloria Summers, Ann McAllister, Myrna Gallinger, Pat Winters, Carol Trimble, Sharon Thompson, Norah Pettit, Linda Marcellus, Deanna Wells and Joyce McAllister. … Valedictorian James Miller, Thompson McMath, William McMath, Peter McLellan and Donna Stewart were the top scholarship recipients at CCVS graduation. … Edo Canada Ltd. announced a $300,000 expansion to its Farlinger Point facility. … Gordon Fraser had two touchdowns while Brian Gilmour and Bruce McDonald scored one apiece as Char-Lan defeated Glengarry District in high school football play. … Montreal Junior Canadiens with a lineup that included Cornwall natives Bob Charlebois and Doug Carpenter along with Yvon Cournoyer and Jacques Lapierre downed Cornwall All-Stars 13-3 in a minor hockey benefit game. … Arthur Lamarche, 15, of Gulf Street, a member of the St. Francis de Sales Boy Scout Troop, received the Queen Scout Badge and Gold Cord, scouting’s highest honour. … Five Standard-Freeholder employees joined the newspaper’s long-service club. They were Hugh Kyte, Lauder Richardson, Robert MacDonald, Maurice Boyer and Vera Paradis. … The United Auto Workers and Chrysler signed a new contract which raised hourly wage for production workers to $2.95 an hour. The company agreed to pay 100% of medical coverage.

TRIVIA This factory, owned by a Cornwall family, was on the southeast corner of Sydney and Ninth Streets from 1908 until 1958. Today the property is home to a strip mall called “Tudor Place”.

TRIVIA ANSWER The Royal Canadian Air Force Association Wing 424 building is almost as old as Canada. It was built shortly after Confederation (1867) as the Cornwall Canal superintendent’s residence. It became home to the RCAFA in 1961.

HERE AND THERE Why is it called 50% chance of rain and not 50% chance of no rain. Perhaps because if the rain forecast is wrong everyone is happy, while if the 50% chance of no rain is wrong, well… Wonder how many folks had no idea what a quid pro quo was until Donald Trump’s controversial telephone conversation with the Ukrainian President? Count me in. … New name for those electric scooters: boomer buggies. … Best thing about turning 70? No need to spend the extra money on treated lumber.

QUOTED “Let us endeavour so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” – Mark Twain

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