Board marking Blyth's arson history erected at Blyth Pharmacy
BY DENNY SCOTT
A second historical art installation has made its way onto a downtown structure in Blyth thanks to local funding opportunities.
David Sparling, a board member of the Blyth Repository of History, which supported the project, explained that the new installation, which depicts the devastating impact of suspected arson fires, was installed on the north side of the Blyth Pharmacy.
The board was paid for through the Blyth Repository of history, Sparling’s property management company DEAMS Ltd. and through a grant from the Huron Heritage Fund and produced by Blyth Printing. The installation of the piece was completed over the weekend.
Sparling said that Blyth has such a unique history and he wants to make sure everyone has a chance to learn about it.
“There is a lot of really neat history in our community,” he said. “It’s important to record the history of our town and the story of the fires is especially important.”
Sparling said the village recovered, multiple times, from fires that claimed huge swaths of its downtown, and rebuilt itself better from the ashes.
Numerous buildings on Blyth’s main street have been lost to fire since the village’s founding, including a significant fire that claimed a number of businesses in 1900, marking the start of numerous suspected arson incidents.
Early in January of 1900, a fire broke out at Joseph Strothers’ bakery and confectionery store. An article from the January 18 issue of The Brussels Post said that, despite the valiant efforts of the Blyth Fire Department, the flames soon spread to the Bank of Hamilton, Heffron Brothers butcher shop, J.G. Moser’s hardware and tinware store and T.W. Scott’s grocery and shoe store. The report went on to say that several buildings, including the post office and McKinnon and Company’s store, “were saved by the liberal use of wet blankets.” The Central Hotel also caught fire several times, according to the newspaper, but it was put out. Several buildings also lost their windows due to the heat.
The Brussels Post reported the total loss due to the fire was estimated between $30,000 and $40,000, which, in modern-day funds, would be equal to between $698,000 and $930,600.
Those who lost their buildings to the fire, according to The Brussels Post, planned to build a “union brick block” in the spring to replace their buildings.
Later in 1900, multiple fires claimed other structures, including grain elevators, the building housing Elam Livingston’s electric light station and sawmill and a hotel.
Several other buildings were claimed in the decade following that first major blaze, resulting in some businesses deciding not to re-open in the village due to the constant threat of fire. Insurance companies also refused to cover buildings in Blyth due to the fires.
The village council eventually offered a $300 reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible for the fires, with another citizen offering to increase the reward by $200.
This image board is the second such installation Sparling has spearheaded, with a large map of the original plans for the village of Blyth erected on the north side of the Orr Insurance building, approximately one block south of the new image board on the Pharmacy.
The project was a demanding one, Sparling said, as a significant amount of research went into it. The Blyth Repository of History helped in the creation of the board. He said, with the repository’s mandate of presenting historically accurate information, there was significant effort put into making sure the board told the whole truth.
While Sparling has no plans for any other boards at the moment, he did say the Blyth Business Improvement Area (BIA) is planning art installations to mark the Great Bicycle Race of 1893 which saw two cyclists on penny farthings set out from Blyth to race to Londesborough. Unfortunately, they only made it a couple blocks until they crashed into one another.