The Day Downtown Leduc Almost Disappeared

  • Oct. 3, 2014 10:00 a.m.

Pipestone Flyer

Leduc’s fire department can trace its beginning back to 1904, when the department began with a fire brigade and a horse-drawn water pump. Over the years the department has been faced with a number of challenges as they were called out to control fires that had struck some of the most important buildings in the community.

In the early years, fires broke out at the railroad station, a grain terminal, churches and schools, and two hotels were severely damaged or destroyed. Many of these fires began in the middle of the night, or in the case of the Leduc Hotel, a gas explosion at noon.

Each time, Leduc adapted and improved its fire prevention procedures. Sometime it was the adoption of bylaws regarding building codes, and other times the purchase of improved equipment.

Up to 1974, Leduc’s major fires, as serious as they were, were generally contained to a single building, and the physical properties of the building allowed the department to contain the fire. Even the fire in June of 1950, that destroyed Telford Hall and the Temple Baptist Church and damaged the telephone office, did not present a huge threat to destroy a major portion of Leduc’s downtown. The exception to that would occur in mid-November in 1974.

Remembrance Day, Monday, November the 11th, had been filled with speeches and parades, but the following day, Tuesday the 12th was the day that would be filled with sparks, flames and heat.

In November, 1974, people were going to the movies to see Airport 1975 and Peter Benchley’s book, Jaws, was on the best seller’s list while John Lennon’s song, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, is getting lots of playing time on the radio, and future actor Leonardo DiCaprio was greeting the world.

By noon on the 12th, most downtown businesses were busy with their customers, or out having lunch. At around 2:30pm, the staff at the Leduc Confectionary noticed the lights flickering and shortly after began to smell smoke. Within fifteen minutes, they realized something was terribly wrong and called the fire department. Before the fire department could arrive, patrons and staff began to haul out supplies and equipment.

The two Leduc fire trucks started to pour water through the windows at the back of the confectionery, but soon realized that the fire would not be contained without additional assistance. A truck soon arrived from the airport, and another one from Edmonton.

In trying to stop the spread of the fire, a hole was punched into the roof of Andy’s Jewellery, the store next to the Confectionary, and water was poured in an attempt to prevent the fire from spreading. The firemen from Edmonton were equipped with portable oxygen and entered Andy’s Jewellery in the hopes of getting at the wall shared with the Leduc Confectionary. Within minutes, they had to abandon their mission, as the water that was being poured through the hole in the roof had built up and collapsed the ceiling.

Many of the buildings in those days still had insulation of wood chips, and once the insulation caught fire, it would be too difficult if not impossible to stop the flames from spreading from one store to the next. Before long, the third store, the Record Shop was engulfed in flames.

Then the flames jumped to McHarg Drug Store’s roof and threatened to spread to the Imperial Café, the Leduc Bakery and a clothing store called Tots & Teen. Fortunately with the help of volunteers, the fire department was able to minimize the damage and quickly put out the flames, preventing further damage. However the south side of Leduc’s downtown had been severely damaged with three stores completely destroyed and four more having to be repaired before reopening.

Mayor Lede and Town Council had been dealing with the increase needs of expanding the fire department in order to adjust to the increased needs of a growing community. Shortly after the fire, the Leduc Fire Department expanded by adding a new International King Pumper in 1976. The pumper remained in service for over twenty years when it was sold to Rainbow Lake, where it remains in service to this day.

November 12th, 1974, was a day when Leduc came close to losing a major section of downtown Leduc, but for the quick response of the fire department and the willingness of volunteers to do what had to be done to save both lives and property, the damage was kept to a minimum.

There would be future fires, but fortunately, through the development of a professional firefighting service and Leduc’s willingness to quickly adapt new bylaws to address the changes in building materials, it is unlikely current and future residents of Leduc will be faced with a fire that threatens to destroy a large section of Leduc‘s downtown.

For more photos and stories about Fire Prevention Week, see this week’s special section, The Fire Brigade News, included with your paper.

Pictured: June 1, 1950 Fire that destroyed the Temple Baptist Church & Telford Hall. Photo from the book, Leduc Reflections: 1981.

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