Harnessing Horsepower

Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)Aerial apparatus, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1142 recto)

The Calgary Fire Department used horses to pull heavy equipment, like the aerial wagon pictured above, until 1933! They got their first motorized vehicle in 1910, but it took a good 20 years to completely phase out the wagons. Fire horses needed to be intelligent, capable of pulling heavy loads, and able to run like they were on a race track. Chief ‘Cappy’ Smart handpicked each one and also helped neighbouring fire departments select their teams.

Left: Candid photo of two firefighters, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1151 recto). Right: Fire Hall 1, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1120). 

Calgary’s fire horses, much like today’s firefighters, wasted no time getting out of the station when the alarm sounded. If you look carefully at the above postcards you’ll notice that harnesses were hung from the ceiling directly in front of the fire wagons. When the alarm bell rang, horses positioned themselves under the harnesses, firefighters lowered the harness with a pull of a rope, and within seconds the horses were strapped in and ready to go!

Here’s another picture of a fire station with a clear view of the harness system.

Interior view of fire station with fire dogs and three firefighters (NAN).  

 

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“The Best Equipped Fire Station in the West”

Five Views of Fire Headquarters

Our collection of postcards includes 30 views of Calgary’s Fire Headquarters – if you count duplicates. Old Station No. 1 is one of the best remaining examples of an early Fire Hall in Canada. And while the building hasn’t served as active station since 1973, it continues to serve as a reminder of Calgary’s history as a leader in firefighting practices.

Left: Fire Hall 1, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1120). Right: #1 Firehall Motor Apparatus, circa 1917-1918. Firefighters Museum of Calgary (94-01-1132).

Calgary’s Fire Headquarters incorporated the very latest in firefighting technology when it was built in 1912. The striking facade, consisting of five bay doors, was large enough to accommodate the Department’s expanding fleet. Located on a corner, the station was built on an angle so that fire trucks and horse drawn wagons, which had very wide turning circles, could speed out in any direction. The new engines, or ‘buzz wagons,’ could go a whooping 64 kilometers per hour!

The second level of the building consisted of dorms, offices, and lounges. This reflected the professionalization of firefighting. Calgary’s Volunteer Fire Brigade was supplemented by 40 full-time paid firefighters in 1909 and the new Headquarters was built to accommodate them.

Candid shot of firefighters relaxing in a Fire Hall. Firefighters are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. (94-01-1123)

Candid shot, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1123).

Postcards in the collage ‘Five Views of Fire Headquarters’:

Best Equipped Fire Station in the West, Calgary, Alta., circa 1913. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1149 recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, Alta., circa 1912. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (FIC2013.000.005R recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, Alta., early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1131 recto).
Fire Headquarters, Calgary, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1134 recto).
The Fire Hall, Calgary, Alta., Canada, early 20th century. Firefighters Museum of Calgary Collection (94-01-1148 recto).