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January 9, 2018

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The Log Cabin that Burned and Burned

February 13, 2017

Leslie T. Richardson- Memories & Other Stories


My Dad used to tell about a house that burned for almost a week. It was owned by a Mr. Ward, a relative of Ron Smith. I believe it was built by a Mr. Osmond (Ossie) Elmore who retired to this piece of property, back in the 1850s, after farming the last farm west on the River Road, next to the Indian Reserve, where Elroy Thompson lives now. It was in what was called the Irish Block and is located just east of the Overhead Bridge on the southside of the river on the corner of Peebles and Stirling streets. The property ran down to the town gravel pit and dump. later, both Mr. Charlie Wauthier and Mr. Charlie Grinyer built homes on this land. Now it is all built up.


Mr. Ward had an orchard in it and when I was young we called it 'Ward's orchard.' The boys went hunting there as it was abandoned property and an ideal spot for rabbits. There were some hickory nut trees along the railroad tracks where we got a goodly supply provided we could beat the squirrels. 


Mr. Ward used to boast that he had the warmest house in town and defied anyone to challenge him. No one dared to take up the challenge, as in winter every house was well heated with their wood stoves, it was also too far out of town to wade through the snow just to prove a point. So his boasting was taken as Irish exaggeration and, let go at that.


For a long time the house stood vacant and the orchard went to waste. As happened so often in Caledonia with vacant property it went up in flames. It apparently burned for some time before anyone noticed it. There was a constant fire in the village dump just north of the property and so no one paid much attention to this fire. Eventually the fire department was called but it was too late to save the structure.


As there were no other buildings in the surrounding area, and the logs were deteriorating, the firemen just put a watch on it and let it burn. It would flare up and then smoulder typical of a log and sawdust fire. Occasionally smoke would flare up and then die down. The fire just continued to burn and burn. This should have been a hot fire which burned rapidly and then go out, but it continued to burn and smoulder.


When the firemen were able to get through the dense smoke, they found that the building outside was truly a log building, but inside the walls were covered with thick planks, piled one on the other and nailed together. Inside this layer was a thick plaster. All holes were effectively sealed. No wonder it burned so long and no wonder that Mr. Ward could boast of the warmest house in town. It had to be destroyed before anyone would believe his story.

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