Fire ravages historic WWI munitions factory in Lindsay

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Kawartha Lakes firefighters battle a fire at the former James Street Munitions Factory in Lindsay Wednesday, July 20, 2020.
  • An aerial view of the First World War Munitions Factory on James Street in Lindsay.  (date unknown)

A fire deemed suspicious engulfed the former World War I munitions factory in Lindsay in the early hours of Wednesday July 20.

At around 10:30 a.m., 12 hours after the initial call, firefighters were still at the scene at 45 James Street.

“We are still fighting the fire,” Kawartha Lakes Fire Chief Terry Jones told this week as about 30 firefighters worked in the blistering summer heat.

“It’s a huge building,” he adds, noting that about a third of the building, which was built around 1916 and used to manufacture munitions for the war effort and later as the Trent factory Rubber, was completely engulfed in flames when crews were called around 12:30 p.m.

In addition to the extreme heat outside, fighting the blaze has been a challenge for fire crews, as the abandoned building has been boarded up and the hydrants are quite a distance from the scene, Jones says.

“Luckily it was mostly an outside attack, so a bit easier than having to pack up and go inside.”

The Ontario fire marshal was called in to help with the investigation, Jones said.
“It’s probably suspicious in nature right now.”

According to Royal Canadian Legion Branch 67 in Lindsay, through research provided by the Olde Gaol Museum, Lindsay was chosen as the site for one of 600 ordnance factories to be built in Canada; and in 1916 the foundation stone was laid on the James Street property. This was made possible through the efforts of Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence, namesake of Lindsay’s Legion branch.

“In the summer of 1917, ‘the Dominion arsenal’ was in full swing; 260 women from Lindsay and surrounding areas engaged in the very dangerous and precise manufacture of cartridges – case, cap and bullet – until the end of the war,” reads information posted on the Legion’s website. . “After the armistice, in the spring of 1919, almost all these ‘munitionettes’ were fired and the factory remained silent.”

Twenty years later, the factory was back in business and producing armaments for World War II.

“In 1969 the site was sold to a private company – Trent Rubber – which eventually closed in 2005,” reads the Legion’s website.

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