June 10, 2011 11:22 am

Vancouver’s fire department puts its history on parade

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Vancouver is guaranteed at least one parade in June, no matter what happens in the Stanley Cup Final.

To commemorate the Great Fire of 1886, and to celebrate the Vancouver fire department’s 125th anniversary, crowds are expected in Gastown on Sunday for a glimpse into the city’s fire response, past and present.

Fighting fires in Vancouver was "one of those jobs that was second to none," said former battalion chief Alex Matches, a retired 33-year veteran of the Vancouver fire department.

Matches, who served from 1962 to 1995, said he’s looking forward to a "great crowd."

He’s most excited to see a historic horse-drawn steam engine from 1899, the Waterous, on loan from the Victoria Fire Department.

Drawing water from any available source, the Waterous pumped it onto fires during an era without fire trucks or hydrants.

The 19th-century steam engine is one of many attractions that people can expect to see during the parade, said Vancouver fire spokesman Gabe Roder.

Also featured will be various LaFrance fire engines from the 1920s, ’40s and ’50s, but the Waterous is "going to be the showstopper," Roder said.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. at Gore and Cordova, the original site of No. 1 fire hall that operated from 1906 to 1951. The parade will then move north on Gore to Powell, then west along Powell to Carrall.

Other attractions at the event – which runs until 4 p.m. – include a Chinese lion dance, performed by the Shon-Yee Benevolent Association; live swing music by the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services band; and a traditional dance by a Squamish First Nation group to commemorate its rescue efforts during the Great Fire.

The Vancouver fire department was formed in May 1886, tackling fires with nothing more than shovels, axes and buckets, Roder said.

Only 16 days after its formation, the fire department faced its greatest fight on June 13 – the Great Fire of 1886, which killed at least 21 people, displaced 2,000 to 3,000 others and scorched 1,000 buildings in and around the downtown core.

"It pretty well wiped out the city," said Roder.

To reflect on that fire and also to celebrate the fire department’s legacy and show appreciation for its past, Roder encourages "everybody to come down." Crowds will be able at look at – and touch – Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services’ history, he said

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