“Killed by Falling Wall”

by Tricia Clark

One of the reasons I volunteered to index was the glimpses of people’s lives we get from the records. While indexing the records for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project, I have been following the trends in the Cause of Death column. As I was indexing records for July 1902, one page gave me pause. Of the 52 names on that page, there were nine accidental deaths. This was an unusually high number. Even more unusual was the fact that five of these nine were young men “Killed by Falling Wall” on Thursday, July 10, 1902.

I was immediately reminded of my great-grandfather whose death certificate lists the cause of death as “Fell down shaft at Island”. Only six months after arriving in Canada in 1907 with his wife and five children, he and three other men were killed working on the excavation of a tunnel under Toronto Harbour. They fell to their deaths when a cable snapped on the “bucket” that lifted them out of the tunnels at the end of the day.

I felt compelled to find out how five young men had been killed by a falling wall. The Toronto Star for July 11, 1902 revealed that they were all firefighters killed by two separate wall collapses while fighting a fire at the P. McIntosh Feed Company on George Street.[1]

Firefighters killed in the McIntosh Feed Company fire on July 10, 1902, Toronto (The Sentinel and Orange Protestant Advocate, 12 July 1902, page 5, AO microfilm N 44 reel 11)

At one time, the building had been used by the Toronto Street Railway Company for stabling horses and was packed with hay, straw and other highly flammable materials. The blaze was intense and spread rapidly. Within minutes of arriving on the scene at 6:20 a.m., Chief Thompson had called a general alarm to summon other stations.

Without any warning, the first wall collapsed on Adam Kerr, David See, and W. Harry Clarke. Despite the incredible heat and danger, men worked to move the rubble to free the men. See and Clarke were found and their lifeless bodies recovered within fifteen minutes. Kerr was located a few hours later only a few feet away. A few minutes after the first wall fell, a second explosion was heard. The south wall had collapsed on Walter Collard and Fred Russell as they were preparing to move away from the dangerous area. A third man who had been with Collard and Russell was saved by the fact that he had gone to turn off the water supply for the hose. It was the largest loss of firefighters in the history of the City of Toronto fire department.

The morning following the fire, permission was granted to the Trustees of the cemetery for the civic funeral, waiving a bylaw that prohibited Sunday burials. Thousands of people waited for hours in the heat outside St. James Cathedral at King and Church and all along Yonge Street. The procession took over an hour to pass any one spot on the route to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. See, Collard and Clarke were buried in Plot B – Section 7 Lot 7, Section 8 Lot 6, and Section 8 Lot 7 respectively. Russell was buried in Plot K – Section 30, Lot 8 and Kerr was buried in Adult Single Grave 1827. These two were subsequently relocated to Plot B next to the other three in Section 6, Lot 7 and Section 16, Lot 6 respectively.[2]

Gravestones for three of the fallen firefighters (L to R: Collard, See, and Clarke) in Section B of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, near the Yonge Street gates.

In Their Last Alarm, Robert B. Kirkpatrick recounts the stories of Ontario firefighters who lost their lives from 1848 to 2002.[3] He provides us with some of the details of the men’s lives. David See, 32, single, was a veteran of the Boer War in South Africa.[4] Adam Kerr, 27, single, joined the department in 1900. The cemetery records indicate he was born in England. Walter Collard, 32, was the assistant captain at the Rose Avenue Hall.[5] Kirkpatrick identifies him as single but the Globe and Mail reports him married with no children.[6] The 1901 Canada census on Ancestry.ca confirms this, showing Walter, a fireman, born in 1870, living with his wife Catherine.[7] Harry Clarke, 27, was married with two children.[8] Fred Russell, 32, was married with three children. According to the Toronto Star, at the time of the fire, his wife was visiting the sanatorium in Gravenhurst, Ontario for treatment of consumption.[9]

Returning to that page in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery records with nine accidental deaths, the other four were: Oscar Joyce, 24, who died June 22, 1902 from “injuries falling from a train” in Tyndall Manitoba; Alexander Martin, 69, who died June 27, 1902 in Toronto Emergency Hospital after “injuries to head received in a fall”; Elizabeth Edwards, 17, in a drowning accident at Kew Beach on July 1, 1902; and a second drowning, William Goddard, 22 in the Don River on July 4, 1902. These are stories to be investigated another day.

“There is little doubt that out of the 180,000 people whose final resting place is here in this beautiful cemetery almost every one has a story just waiting to be told.” – Mike Filey in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, An Illustrated Guide


[1] Toronto Star July 11, 1902 page 1, and Toronto Star July 13, 1902 page 1

[2]David See” article by Mike Filey on the web site of the Mount Pleasant Group: http://www.mountpleasantgroup.com/new/interest/filey/archives/see

A similar article about David See appears in: Filey, Mike, Mount Pleasant Cemetery An Illustrated Guide, Toronto, Ontario, Dundurn Press 1999, p 192.

[3] Kirkpatrick, Robert B., Their Last Alarm, Burnstown, Ontario, General Store Publishing House 2002

[4] David See’s gravestone says he died “in his 30th year”.

[5] Walter is listed on his gravemarker as Walter Oakes Collard, born June 10, 1870.

[6] Globe & Mail July 11, 1902 page 1 and 2

[7] 1901 Census: District 117 Toronto East/ subdistrict R/ polling subdivision 32 in Toronto Ward 2/ p 9. (Viewed on Ancestry.ca on June 17, 2011)

[8] Harry is listed on his gravemarker as Walter H.

[9] Further information about the incident, including nearly a full page of biographical data, can be found in the The Sentinel and Orange Protestant Advocate, 12 July 1902, page 5, Archives of Ontario microfilm N 44 reel 11.
The following web sites were also consulted:
Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Five Orangemen Killed in the line of Duty, July 10th, 1902”, published on the web site of the County Orange Lodge of Toronto

The author, Tricia Clark, who lives in Aurora, Ontario has been collecting family stories since she was a kid. She volunteers as an indexer for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project as a way to give back to the genealogical community and because it’s fascinating!

3 Responses to ““Killed by Falling Wall””

  1. Re the William Goddard mentioned at the end of the article:

    I have Goddard ancestors and belong to the Goddard Association of Europe. I posted this article on their Facebook Group and the great-nephew of the William buried in Mount Pleasant responded to me. I would love to get an image of the grave for him. Do you still have access to the plot information?

    • Jane MacNamara says:

      Our indexing of the burial register where William Goddard’s name appears is still in progress, but the digital images of the pages have recently become available for browsing on the FamilySearch site. Go to https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/show#uri=http://hr-search-api:8080/searchapi/search/collection/1627831.
      Near the bottom of the page, click on “Browse through 7,234 images.” Select Mount Pleasant, and the appropriate register: Volume 02, 1896-1908. Then browse through the images until you find July 1902.
      Won’t this be easier when there’s an index? Wouldn’t you like to help create one?
      (Hint: try page 103.)

      • I’ve been doing some indexing on an ad hoc basis for them, but I’ll sign up for the Toronto Branch project. I’m so shamed, LOL!

        Thanks for the reference link… I found two newspaper articles (from the Star and Globe) and shared them with Michael Goddard, the great-nephew. One confirmed that it was in fact his g-uncle as it indicated where in England he was from.

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