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Porcupine Fire - July 11, 1911

The Porcupine fire of 1911 was one of the most devastating ever to attack the Ontario northland. Spring had come early that year, followed by an abnormally hot dry spell that lasted into the summer. This created ideal conditions for the ensuing disaster, in which a number of smaller fires converged into a giant conflagration.

Photograph showing people on the bank of a lake with trunks, furniture and boats, Lake Porcupine, 1911


Refugees using boats to escape the fire, Lake Porcupine, 1911

Porcupine, a community on the north side of Porcupine Lake, in the city of Timmins, was the site of a huge gold discovery in 1907. On July 11, 1911, when the Porcupine gold rush was at its height, a gale from the southwest whipped some small bush fires into flames. As the fire gained strength, it engulfed the tinder-dry forest, razing everything in its path.

Photograph of some men standing beside informal graves marked with wooden crosses, while bodies await burial, Porcupine, 1911


Graves of victims of the Porcupine fire, 1911

The blaze formed a horseshoe-shaped front over 36 kilometres (20 miles) wide with flames shooting 30 metres (100 feet) into the air. It laid waste to about 200,000 hectares (over 494,000 acres) of forest and killed at least 70 people. Many people were drowned as they fled into Porcupine Lake to escape the flames, while others suffocated to death under the mines. At one point, a car of dynamite stored at the railway station exploded, lashing the lake into waves 3 metres (nine feet) high.

Mining camps and the boomtowns of South Porcupine and Pottsville were destroyed; Golden City (now called Porcupine) and Porquis Junction were partially destroyed. The next day, the fire swept through the nearby town of Cochrane.

Communities throughout Ontario responded generously with aid.

Because of the importance of the gold discoveries, very few people abandoned the mining camps and, remarkably, the area was rebuilt in a short period of time.

One unexpected result of the fire was the creation of a fresh water spring where explosives had blown up. The aftermath of the disaster brought a renewed sense of purpose to the devastated communities. A plaque erected at the Whitney Cemetery commemorates the event and the victims.