Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Toronto Star/PA-179599

Historical Insights The Great Porcupine Fire of 1911

Many of the fire’s victims were buried in the cemetery at Dead Man’s Point. Because so many prospectors and temporary workers lived in the woods, it is estimated that the number of those who died was far higher than could be verified. July 11, 1911, Porcupine District, Ontario. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Toronto Star/PA-179599

The Great Porcupine Fire of 1911

One of the most destructive forest fires in Canadian history struck Ontario in 1911, killing dozens and burning almost half a million acres of timber.

In 1900 northern Ontario was flush with prospects: miners found silver, then gold, and a nearby railway spur made South Porcupine, Pottsville, and other towns burgeon with gold-seekers. A dry, hot spring and summer and gale-force winds turned a few bush fires into a conflagration. On July 11, 1911, a 20-mile-wide and 100-foot high arc of fire devoured those towns and 494,000 acres of forest. One Mr. Russell, racing to a creek with his family, saved a girl trapped in a burning tent. Few people had such luck. Some hid in mine shafts, only to suffocate as the fire passed over. Many in Porcupine Lake drowned when a dynamite-filled railway car exploded and created a tidal wave. At least 70 people perished in the tragedy but more likely upwards of 200. Though the fire destroyed 11 mines and the railway, towns began rebuilding within days, and gold fever invigorated northern Ontario soon after.