Letters from Canada…

Something a little different…

Many people lived in the Charnwood Street area almost all their lives – but some left to go much further afield. They included James K. Kelly, ‘formerly of Charnwood Street’, who went to Canada around 1889 to serve as a Methodist minister. Three years later he wrote to the Leicester Chronicle describing the ‘awful grandeur’ of the scene as a large part of the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland was destroyed by fire. It was ‘impossible’, he said:

‘to describe the prevalent confusion or distress during the progress of the conflagration, or the desolation of the ruined city, which was swept away in a few hours… Lawlessness is now an added danger, for some people have attempted to extend the fire, possibly for pillage or insurance, and robbery has been carried on wholesale’.*

Rev Kelly himself lost ‘nothing but a toothbrush and shaving brush’ in the fire, but two other Methodist ministers lost ‘all but the clothing that they and their families were wearing’. The letters concluded with an appeal to Methodists everywhere to contribute to rebuilding ‘their places of worship etc.’

The fire started on 8 July 1892 in a stable, when a match used by a man to light his pipe was thrown down while still alight. A combination of a long drought and hot weather allowed it to spread very quickly, particularly as the water supply to the affected area had been cut off and the town’s fire engine had been sent to help put out a forest fire. Around two thousand  houses were destroyed and almost a third of the town’s population of 30,000 were made homeless. Donations of food, clothing, building materials and cash totalling $364,000 were received from Britain, other parts of Canada and the United States, and the town was quickly rebuilt.

I haven’t been able to find any more information about Rev Kelly, but there is more about the fire at http://www.heritage.nf.ca/society/reconstruction.html.

* Leicester Chronicle, 30 July 1892


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