Photo of Lewis Park tents that housed burnt out Merville settlers
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Merville fire. This unique photo illustrates the emergency shelter accommodations set up in Lewis Park. Ian Clapperton, the grandson of Merville settlers Oliver and Elsie Linton, came from the U.K. to share history and photos from his family collection with our archives.
We look to Land of Plenty for a concise wrap-up of the disaster. “The Merville Fire of July 6, 1922, fanned by a north-east wind moved south from the Oyster River through standing timber “crowning” in great bursts of flame. It hit the felled and bucked timber of Comox Logging Camp 2 on the Oyster and gained momentum. It missed the new Camp 3 by half a mile. The velocity of the fire increased as it raced across the reforested ridge north of Merville. The little trees there were flattened to the ground, blackened and stripped of all foliage. It raged through the Merville Settlement destroying buildings and animals. One life was lost; Jack Clifford, a boy of fifteen was found lying on the ground within twenty yards of safety.
Those families remaining in the old Camp Three buildings located on the site of Black Creek store were evacuated by the train crew just ahead of the fire. Some of their men wouldn’t join them and spent the night in wells and in the water pools of Black Creek.
Although the Comox Logging and Railway Company claimed that the fire had started ten miles north of the Oyster River in International Timber Company logging operations, the Merville settlers won their compensation claims against Comox Logging. They alleged that a spark from a Comox Logging locomotive had started the blaze and that the company neglected to take proper precautions to cope with, and extinguish, the fire. Fifty-six settlers claimed for loss of stock, buildings, crops, equipment and permanent damage to the soil.”
Quote from page 195 of The Land of Plenty, Editors-Authors: D.E. Isenor, W.N. McInnis, E.G. Stephens, D.E. Watson, 1987.
Bonus: In 1919, the Prince of Wales visited Merville (yes you read that right) and it was filmed as part of his royal visit to Vancouver Island. Watch it here around the 8:50 mark.