Looking Back


Onoway Firefighters


Onoway's first "fire engine" was not an engine at all. It was a small 100-gallon tank mounted on a cart with large wagon wheels that was towed by hand to fight fires in the hamlet in the early 1900s. This was more efficient than the "bucket brigade" that came together to fight earlier fires. Men passed buckets filled with water from one person to the next from the well to wherever the fire was. Sometimes women and children would form another line passing empty buckets back to the well. Because most buildings were made of wood, losses were immense.


Onoway experienced several bad fires. In 1942, the Onoway Creamery burned down and was rebuilt. The worst was the fire of 1949. It destroyed many of the buildings on the south side of Lac Ste. Anne Trail, opposite where BigWay Foods now stands.


The fire started in the café, then spread to the telephone exchange, the post office, butcher shop, Camplin's confectionary and Wismer's second hand store. Huge efforts by many people prevented the fire from jumping south across the back alley and destroying the hall, lumber yard and many homes.

Onoway Fire 1949
Heritage Days Parade 1992
Onoway - after the1949 fire, looking west from 49 Street

Onoway Fire Department in Heritage Days parade, 1992

Over the years, a volunteer fire department evolved. A fire engine (second hand, of course) was purchased, a fire hall was designated, and the volunteer firefighters had access to proper equipment and clothing. By this time, volunteers would receive a phone call or the fire siren would wail out through the town.

Volunteer License Plate
Eddie's Helmet

License plate that volunteers would attach
to their cars that gave them "right of way" en route to a fire

Eddie Dales' fire helmet


If you have photos of Onoway's fires, the work of the fire department or any related information, Onoway Museum would be honoured to add this to its collection. Stop by the museum to see Onoway's first fire engine – and be thankful for progress!

 Return to Home Page
 Last updated: July 3, 2016