Canadian Genealogy

The Saskatoon Fire Fighter Memorial

This post is in honour of firefighters.

Intro

You can never predict where the next genealogical find will be. I was biking past the fire hall on Taylor Street in Saskatoon. If I had been driving, as I have done dozens of times, I would have missed the small park adjacent to the fire hall. This is a blog about that park, and the stories that I found there.

Fire Fighter Memorial, AIFF Local 20

At the base of the memorial are a series of plaques.

The Firefighters Memorial, Saskatoon, SK. May 2019. Photo Credit: Linda Yip. © 2020 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Saskatoon firefighters lost in the line of duty

Table of memorials

NameDOB and DODCause of death (COD)
Bauer, Werner24 Apr 1935 – 31 May 2006Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Bergen, William M.7 Mar 1941 – 6 Dec 1993Outlaws Nightclub Fire
Budz, Victor James27 Dec 1933 – 31 May 1980Queen’s Hotel Fire
Castle, Ross20 Sep 1939 – 4 Feb 2008Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Cummine, Raymond J.6 Mar 1926 – 15 Oct 2002Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Dunlap, Thomas A.6 Jul 1929 – 7 Apr 2002Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Ediger, Robert I.29 Jun 1934 – 6 Sep 2011Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Fahl, Harold2 Sep 1931 – 19 Nov 1990Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Gregg, George (Bud)3 May 1932 – 7 Sep 2014Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Guenter, Dennis Aron4 Jan 1951 – 31 May 1980Queen’s Hotel Fire
Hazelwanter, Larry W.11 Feb 1937 – 15 Apr 2013Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Hultman, Mervin V.26 Sep 1938 – 22 Feb 2018Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Krieger, Frank J.9 Sep 1933 – 23 May 2007Cancer, Line of Duty Death
McGinnis, Charles MartinNov 1882 – 6 Mar 1946J.I. Case Fire
McIntyre, Dale W.2 Jan 1938 – 9 May 2017Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Mierau, Elvin21 Apr 1932 – 6 Nov 2010Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Ray, Daryl B.8 Nov 1948 – 23 Dec 2016Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Traill, Robert D.5 Aug 1931 – 16 May 2011Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Usselman, Edward22 Feb 1935 – 11 Jun 2004Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Woodhead, LE (Curly)11 May 1911 – 16 Jun 1944Corps of Canadian Fire Fighters
Wyma, Jan10 Jun 1928 – 31 May 2012Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Zelinski, Eddie B.8 Jan 1940 – 28 May 2010Cancer, Line of Duty Death
Table of fire fighter memorials, Saskatoon, SK

The stories

Once I collected the photos, I had to know more about the stories. If you’re reading this, I bet you do too.

The Canadian Corps of Fire-Fighters, WWII

Civilians with or without fire-fighting experience volunteered as firefighters to work in Great Britain to fight the fires caused by the bombings. The Canadian Corps of Fire-Fighters was organized in 1942.

Lawrence “Curley” Woodhead was a former Saskatchewan diving champion who served in Great Britain. He was there during D-Day (6 Jun 1944) but died shortly thereafter.

The J.I. Case Fire of 1946

The fire gutted the C.I. Case Company’s warehouse at First Avenue and Queen Street on 1 Feb 1946. Damages were estimated to be $250K ($3.3M today). The company held army ordnance as well as liquid oils and lubricants. Reported losses included 5 tractors, 15 combines, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of parts.

Charles Martin McGinnis was born in Nova Scotia in 1882. He was a survivor of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, and was a firefighter of skill and experience. His cause of death was a pair of heart attacks, brought on by complications from the gangrene in his frozen feet. The weather on that cold night was -8 deg C (18.4 deg F) with a 30 km/hr (19.5 mph) wind.

The Queen’s Hotel fire of 1980

The fire at the Queen’s Hotel on First Avenue South, began on the morning of 2 Jun 1980 in the hotel sauna and gym area. There were 32 firefighters, 2 engines, and three aerials on site. Visibility, which had initially been fine, abruptly changed when the incoming air produced a deadly backdraft, extreme heat, and blackout conditions.

Firefighters Victor James Budz, 47 years old, and Dennis Aron Guenter, 29 years old, had each been with the fire departments less than two years. They died of smoke inhalation. Three other firefighters were also caught in the heat and darkness but managed to find their way to safety.

The Saskatoon block fire of 1982

The fire began at 3:00 am in the empty Outlaws Nightclub at 224 Second Avenue South, growing to encompass the Taverna Restaurant, Owls Billiards and Video Arcade, James Art Studio, and Great Strides Clothing. The Marvel Beauty School caught fire from the neighbouring video arcade, but was not a total loss. The CIBC Tower, housing the Bank of Commerce among other businesses, was filled with smoke.

William “Billy” Bergen burned his lungs in the fire. He later became the recipient of a double lung transplant and lived two more years. He died at the age of 52 years.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters

It was sobering to read these plaques. I think of the incredible heroism when I think of people willing to rush into a dangerous situation to save the life of a stranger. We all know smoke is dangerous. Today’s buildings are far more likely to be filled with substances that emit toxic fumes when burned.

Postscript

As with all genealogy stories, this is a story that got more interesting the more I researched. My final thought is this: we can all do our part to keep our firefighters safe: make sure there are smoke and C02 detectors in the house, and that their batteries are changed annually. Get the furnace checked every fall. Speak up if you see an unsafe situation at work. Put simply: take some ownership and responsibility for our own safety where and when we can.

I hope you enjoyed this post about ordinary, everyday, extraordinary local heroes.

References

Garis, Len. “Studying the statistics” (18 Jun 2019). Canadian Firefighter, Simcoe, ON. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Cdnfirefighter.com.

Skelton, Carol (10 Jun 2005). Statement by Carol Skelton: Carol Skelton on firefighters, in the House of Commons on June 10th, 2005. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at open parliament.ca. Skelton, MP for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar remembers the firefighters who died in the line of duty, particularly referencing Bill Bergen’s death from injuries sustained 11 years earlier.

Veterans Affairs Canada. Civilian support to the Armed forces – Corps of (Civilian Canadian Firefighters). Last modified 14 Feb 2019. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Veterans Affairs Canada, Ottawa, ON.

Newspapers (in date order)

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “I see – Curley Woodhead” (30 Mar 1944), pg 3 column 8. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “curley woodhead canadian corps firefighters”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “”Curley” Woodhead is dead in Britain” (19 Jun 1944), pg 3 column 4. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “curley woodhead canadian corps firefighters”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “Heavy fire damage to Case warehouse” (1 Feb 1946), pg 3 columns 7,8 and pg. 5, column 3. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “JI Case Company, 1946-1950, Canada.”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “Answered last call” (7 Mar 1946), pg 3 columns 1. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “McGinnis, 1946, Saskatchewan.”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “Fire chief calls deaths worst tragedy” (2 Jun 1980), pg 1, columns 1-5, including photos. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “Queen’s Hotel fire Saskatoon, 1980, Canada.”

Newspapers.com. Leader-Post, “Violence and death jolt Saskatoon” (2 Jun 1980), pg 1, columns 3-6, including photo. Leader-Post, Regina, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “Budz fire fighter, 1980.”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix, “Fire destroys five businesses” (3 Aug 1982), pg 1, columns 1-5, including photo. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “Outlaws Club fire, 1982, Canada.”

Newspapers.com. Star-Phoenix. Obituary of William (Bill) Bergen. (9 Dec 1993), Section D, pg 1, columns 2. Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, SK. Accessed 29 Dec 2020 at Newspapers.com with keywords “William Bergen, 1993, Saskatchewan.”

One thought on “The Saskatoon Fire Fighter Memorial

  1. What a sobering post. I haven’t seen the memorial, but as it’s not too far from where my mum lives, I will add it to my places to see whenever I get to Saskatoon again (not sure about this summer, sadly)… My husband’s father was a volunteer firefighter and died in the line of duty.

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