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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The burning city

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This year it seems a week can’t go by without another major fire in the news. The crowd-sourced echo chamber that is twitter no doubt adds to that perception that fire is all around us, as with Tuesday’s blaze in Kanata — captured here in a tweetphoto of such intensity it looks like the iPhone that took it  is starting to melt –or last weekend’s controversial blaze at a scrapyard on Sheffield Road, tweeted within minutes of breaking out. Of course when fire struck Merivale Road in February the news didn’t need even need twitter to spread around quickly; CJOH losing its home of nearly four decades was instant headline news all by itself.

Fire seems to be a perfect subject for the immediacy of social media and the aftermath of a blaze seems an especially popular subject for Ottawa photo-bloggers.

Spacing Ottawa contributor Justin Van Leeuwen has the knack for being close the scene for the fires that seem to bedevil his West End district, and has recorded the destruction superbly in shots like this Chinatown panorama or the shattered windows of this dream home on St. Francis near Gladstone that recently caught on fire on the last day of construction. This pit of rubble is a burned-out convenience store not far from Bronson.

Chinatown has had several notorious fires in recent years and the sound of a fire truck racing through its narrow streets always brings with it an extra sense of anxiety; this Flickr video from ZJ Mac puts the viewer right on the sidewalk as a a big ladder truck honks and swerves through traffic on Somerset West.

Nearby on Preston Street, arson was the suspected cause of last summer’s blaze that gutted a vintage brick 2-story and the restaurant it housed; prolific Flickr contributor Steve Brandon displays both the burned-out hulk and the building as it was just a few weeks before here.

Of course, most of Centretown’s stock of stately brick homes have long since been chopped and changed into rabbit warrens of odd-shaped apartments, most of which would never make fire code regulations if built today. Exterior walls with bolted-on “afterthought” fire escapes are the norm here, but few tenants expect they would ever user them in an actual emergency, a dangerous state of affairs as this winter photo from Michelle Tribe shows.

And speaking of Centretown, blogger Charles Akben-Marchand has meticulously documented the aftermath of that district’s most spectacular inferno of recent years, the Tommy and Lefebvre fire at the corner of Bank and MacLeod in 2009. In a seven-part series perfectly suited to a blog format, Charles starts with the night of the fire its and records the month-by-month progress of  demolition, removal, and eventual rebuilding. He also links up with others who were at the scene, as when he directs us to this spectacular video shot while the blaze was in full force; at one point the thick clouds of black smoke shooting out of the building overwhelm the entire street.

photo by Justin Van Leeuwen



  1. “Spacing Ottawa contributor Justin Van Leeuwen has the knack for being close the scene for the fires”

    Hmmm…that’s interesting. 😉