Skip to main content

The Firefighter's Museum of Winnipeg

56 Maple Street, home to Fire Hall No. 3 was an active fire hall in Winnipeg until 1990. It was built in 1904 and was one of five fire halls built in Winnipeg that year. Those plans for Fire Hall no. 3 would be used to build 14 more fire halls in the city.

Fire Hall No. 3
Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee
Winnipeg's early buildings were built primarily with wooden frames. Wood frame buildings are inherently more susceptible to fire, and buildings back then weren't anywhere near what we would consider fire safe by modern standards. Fire was a deadly concern for Winnipeg and other North American cities. The Great Chicago Fire raged for two days in October of 1871. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed much of Chicago's downtown, primarily wooden frame buildings.

Wooden buildings being built closer and closer together made fire a growing concern for the growing city of Winnipeg. On September 24, 1874, Winnipeg's first volunteer fire brigade formed. Some of the members were prominent Winnipeg men. A few of the members: Thomas Ryan; a Winnipeg retailer who would go on to be elected Mayor, J.H. Ashdown; one of Winnipeg's first millionaires, and William Code, the man with nine lives.

William Code had a career marked by unfortunate and dangerous incidents. He was stepped on by horses, got frostbite many times, and  and was severely injured in the Ashdown Warehouse fire of 1883. Ashdown sold anything and everything, including dynamite, which was used for railway construction. As the warehouse burned, the firefighters quickly realized they would need to get the dynamite out of the building before it turned catastrophic. Code was injured in the process. He later narrowly avoided being crushed by a falling wall during the Manitoba Hotel Fire of 1883. 

The Manitoba Hotel burns in 1883.
One of Code's most famous incidents was when he became "The Human Icicle." During a fire fight in the middle of winter, Code actually froze to the ground. His fellow fire fighters had to free him by chipping him apart from the ground. They went to the nearest hotel for him to thaw and warm up. After all he went through, William Code lived to be 92.

William Code when his body was frozen.
In April of 1877, the volunteer fire brigade became a full-time force with two teams of 20 men. In 1882, a full time fire department made up of paid fire fighters was finally implemented. 36 fire fighters, a captain, his assistant, 17 horses, four steam pumpers, three chemical wagons, three horse-drawn hose wagons, one hood and ladder wagon, and 8,700 feet of hose.

A central station on William Avenue opened in 1883, and two other buildings opened soon after. These three buildings made up Winnipeg's early fire hall system. The firefighter's who lived and worked out of these buildings described them as "beautiful shells, with slum like interiors." But in 1904, the new fire halls were constructed. 

Fire halls were frequently built on busy street corners, so that they would be prominently seen. The towers in fire halls did tend to be eye catching, but their purpose was functional, not aesthetic. The length of the towers was as long as they needed to be to allow fire hoses to be hung to dry.

Early horse drawn wagon with a ladder.
Fire Hall No. 3 was built in a historically fire prone area, to better the chances of reaching fires in time to put them out before too much damage was done. But its location was also chosen because it was near the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, a spot where it would be easily seen by new arrivals to Winnipeg from across Canada and abroad. The presence of a fire hall would bring a sense of security to new comers. Fire Hall No. 3 cost nearly twice as much as the other stations constructed in the same year. The reason for this was because of its prominent placement near the CPR station and so more money was spent on ornamental embellishments of Fire Hall No. 3. 

The building itself draws influences from several architectural styles. It was designed by brothers, Alexander and William Melville, who designed many other Winnipeg buildings. The interior was simple and utilitarian. First and foremost, Fire Hall No. 3 needed to be efficient, to allow fire fighters to move through it as quickly as possible, and to enhance their ability to do their work. The exterior blends Classical and Romanesque architecture. It is made of stone, and it cost $22,000 to build.
There are four large equipment doors on the ground floor with rounded stone arches and raised keystones. The second store is brick with rusticate stone sills and rectangle windows and each window is made of leaded and bevelled glass. The original roof has been replaced, and the original was more ornamental than the present roof.

Fire Hall No. 3 in present day
The interior of the fire hall has been changed very little since its construction. The second floor had bedrooms, a common area, and offices. The first floor was designed to house equipment and horses. The front area was where the wagons and pumpers were stored, and the back area houses horses with a hayloft. Originally there were 10 stalls for horses. The stalls were eventually replaced with a kitchen, a washroom, and storage space as horses in the fire fighting industry were replaced with motor vehicles. 

The Fire Hall sat empty for four years after it was decommissioned in the 1990s. It officially opened as the Fire Fighter's Museum of Winnipeg in 1999. Today, it is a monument to the history of fire fighting in Winnipeg. The Fire Fighters Historical Society, which was formed in 1982, by a group of fire fighters and former fire fighters, among them was William Code. Code kept amazing archives of the history of the department, and major fires in Winnipeg. 

Early 1870 hand pump.
 The museum is open year round Sundays from 9 am - 3 pm. They have an amazing inventory of vintage fire fighting equipment like early fire vehicles, rescue apparatus, and more. They also have pictures, artifacts, and other information about fire fighting in Winnipeg.

An early fire extinguisher.
Visit their website for more information, and to plan your visit!