Around 8’oclock in the morning on Wednesday, January 27, 1915, D.R. Rowatt tipped a gasoline lamp near a burning stove in his butcher shop. A fire immediately commenced, and spread across the east side of Ogema, Saskatchewan. Fireman raced to fight the raging fire. With temperatures as low as minus 54 degrees, their fire extinguisher was frozen. The fire levelled the entire east side of Main Street, leaving everything in ashes and consuming $25,000 of property.
Another fire erupted in November the same year, destroying farm property on the southwest corner of town. The town council decided something needed to be done to protect against fires, so the Ogema fire wall was built.
The Ogema fire wall stood tall for a century before it needed repairs; however, finding a stonemason and covering the cost of the repair were problems that had to be solved before restoration was possible.
The fire wall was built in 1916, contracted by Robert Lecky of Regina and Arthur Townstead of Milestone. The wall was 28 feet high, 16 inches thick, 70 feet long, and extended eight feet underground. The wall creates a barrier against a fire. When it was built, fire walls were rare and expensive, and the government was convinced that the fire wall would not last more than five years before degrading. They were wrong.
The Ogema fire wall was still standing a century later, but needed repairs. The top was degraded and water was flowing inside the bricks. Stonemasons are more rare today than they were in 1916, and they are expensive.
The town received a grant from the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation. Peggy Tuscherer, the Town Administrator, found LaCoste Masonry in Regina, and the company repaired the wall in the summer of 2016.
Tuscherer says, “It’s not so much for the sake of a fire anymore, but because of its history.”
She says even though the government didn’t have faith that the fire wall was necessary, the people of Ogema cherish it.
Gloria Wilde remembers the wall from her childhood when she carved a slot between two bricks with a hacksaw blade. She hid “treasures” such as matches and money in this space. After she moved away from Ogema, she still went back to look at her hiding spot. When her space was filled with cement, she felt sad that her “secret place was gone.”
The fire wall is a defining factor of Ogema, being the oldest brick fire wall in a Saskatchewan town.
The fires of 1915 were devastating to the people of Ogema, so the town council knew that action was required for protecting their town. Even though the fire wall may not truly be a barrier for fires today, the town of Ogema embraces this rare structure because it stands over a century later.