Railway Avenue, Horse Racing & Water Power- Ashcroft, BC
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member T0SHEA
N 50° 43.564 W 121° 16.763
10U E 621440 N 5620775
The Old 1919 Ashcroft Fire Hall will be seen on the north side of Highway 97 just after crossing the bridge to enter Ashcroft.
Waymark Code: WM14N6M
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Date Posted: 07/30/2021
Views: 0

In February of 1898 a fire hall was constructed on Railway Avenue about 250 metres to the south. A bell had been procured in 1895 by fire chief James Haddock, at his own expense, and hung between two high posts beside the hall.

On July 5, 1916 a fire started in the Ashcroft Hotel at the corner of 4th Street and Railway Avenue, the fire hall, a block to the north, becoming one of the casualties, though some of the apparatus was saved. Work began on April 15, 1919 for the new fire hall, the cost $360. The wooden building, erected on the site of its predecessor, measured 12 feet by 20 feet, with a 25-foot-high drying tower for the fire hoses. The bell was relocated to the fire hall, where it was in use until 1942, when it was replaced by a siren and discarded.

By 1959 it had become clear that the fire hall no longer met the needs of the fire department, so fundraising began in August 1959 for a new building that would accommodate both a fire hall and a museum. To be built of brick, construction began in mid-October, a few metres south of the 1919 fire hall. The total cost of the building was just over $10,000, with the northern part, with its two bay doors, housing the fire department, and the southern portion serving as Ashcroft’s museum until the former Post Office at 4th and Brink Streets became the museum in June of 1982. The museum portion of the building was converted into office and training space for the fire department.

This building, the 1919 fire hall, was moved to its current location at the east end of the Ashcroft bridge in 1996. The original fire bell had been spirited away by another community, but was eventually brought back to Ashcroft, where it became part of a historic display at the north entrance to the bridge. That display was dismantled in 1979, and the original bell now hangs in a tower at the Lady Minto Plaza on Railway Avenue. An exact replica of the bell was commissioned by the Revitalization Committee in 1996, and now hangs here at the 1919 fire hall.

In 2017 the Village of Ashcroft was successful in receiving grant money to replace the wood siding, install new doors, windows, and trim, paint everything, and install new exterior lighting. Although the hall is not open to visitors, it contains a small display, which can be viewed through a large window on the building's western end. As part of the refurbishment, new storyboards have been prepared which present several aspects of the history of Ashcroft.

This storyboard/heritage marker has been mounted at the southwest corner of the 1919 fire hall, to the right of the display window. It tells a bit of the stories of Ashcroft's Railway Avenue, Horse Racing in Ashcroft and Water Power on the Bonaparte River.

With the building of the bridge in 1886, the town sprang to life. Railway Avenue was a steady stream of heavily loaded freight wagons, and the red and yellow stages of the BX Company. With stores, hotels, blacksmiths, laundries, the early business men in Ashcroft made a good living. And there was China Town at the north end of the street busy as well. As more families arrived so did a school, churches and eventually in 1913, a hospital.

The Opera House was home to many talented musicians and actors, both local and traveling ones! Horse racing, curling and skating also took place on Railway Avenue. Because of Ashcroft's dry climate and mild winters it was advertised as a desirable location for tourists and health seekers!
Anyway we had good racing in them days!

According to a clipping taken from an eastern newspaper and sent into the Journal by Sam Langford, Heinie Kirsten, veteran trainer and former rider, claims the world's worst race track is located in British Columbia at Ashcroft to be exact.

Here's the balance of the story.

Kirsten was engaged to ride a horse, Dr. Sharp, in the classical Ashcroft Derby in 1912. Walking up the main street with one of the villagers carrying his bags Kirsten asked: "Where's the race track?" "You're walking on it Mister" and he was.

Ashcroft's main street in those days was half a mile long, with a graveyard at one end and the Thompson River at the other.

The derby started at the graveyard, past the Ashcroft Hotel and down by the Busy Bee Cafe. The judges' stand was a fire-hose tower. At the finish, the riders had to pull up and make a sharp turn to avoid landing in the river.

Dr. Sharp finished second and Kirsten brought his foaming steed to a halt on the doorstep of You Lee's Laundry!

Ashcroft Journal July 13, 1944
The Bonaparte River flows into the Thompson River about a mile upstream from the Village of Ashcroft. Over the years it has provided the power for some of the town's earliest endeavours.

From 1879 to 1890, its steady stream turned the water wheel of Harper's Flour Mill. In 1898, The Ashcroft Water and Electric Co. was organized for the purpose of installing an electric light plant and waterworks for the town. About 2 miles up the Bonaparte, in a narrow part of the gorge, a solidly constructed damn was built. A large 50 x 50 power house contained an electric generator and a rotary irrigation pump.

On October 1, 1898, the lights were turned on without a hitch, this was followed on the 22nd, by water.

In 1919, the water of the Bonaparte again provided power, this time for an extensive flume system, built by the Ashcroft Irrigated Land Co. It was estimated that the flume system would provide water for approximately 1500 acres of arable land. The water was turned on in a mid-April 1919. By the 26th of April, there were 300 acres seeded with beans, alfalfa and potatoes.
Type of Marker: Cultural

Type of Sign: Historic Site or Building Marker

Describe the parking that is available nearby: Best parking is in the Safety Mart lot, across the street.

What Agency placed the marker?: Village of Ashcroft.

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