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Sketches of Canada for February 3rd!

Canadian History for Kids: Parliament Fire

February 3, 1916 – Fire breaks out in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings at 8: 50 pm during a debate; by midnight, the main tower is ablaze.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive, looks at the great fire.

It was almost 9:00 p.m. on February 3, 1916, when a fire breaks out in the Commons Reading Room in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings.

It is believed that a cigar left to smoulder in a wastebasket started a small fire that by the time it was brought to the attention of a clerk it was already too late. The library room was panelled with wood and the floor covered with newspapers and magazines. Within minutes the fire had spread to the corridors and smoke began to fill the building. The interior of the Centre Block was finished with wood and the walls recently oiled and the floor varnished. Had an employee not closed the Library’s iron doors in time, thousands of irreplaceable books would also have been lost.

The house was sitting that evening but some of those present did not see the urgency of the situation, including women in the gallery who went back for their fur coats and perished. In total seven people died.

Prime Minister Robert Borden was in one of the offices when he was alerted and escaped by crawling along the corridors on his hands and knees. Some people stopped to rescue furniture or artwork, including the portrait of Queen Victoria hanging in the Commons.

At midnight, the main tower was ablaze, yet the clock was still able to strike 12. Shortly after midnight the great bell in the Victoria Tower crashed to the ground.

The next morning the library was still smoking while the ruined Centre Block was covered with ice. The rescued furniture and art were scattered everywhere.

The Centre Block was rebuilt while still fighting in the First World War. The new structure, designed in the Modern Gothic Revival style by John Pearson and Jean Omer Marchand, was completed by 1922. The Peace Tower was finished later in 1927.

The bell was restored in 2000 and placed on the grounds of Parliament Hill as a monument to the 1916 fire. The bell’s inclined position recalls the angle at which it came to rest after falling.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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