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[ Marguerite d'Youville and the Fire of 17 May 1765, Sœur Marie-du-Rédempteur, s.g.m, Archives et Collection des Sœurs Grises de Montréal  ]

Prior to the age of electricity, fire was the main source of heat and light for people. Wood was burned in fires for cooking and heating houses, and was also used to build bonfires. When night fell, candles and lanterns lit up houses and institutions. People roamed the dark city streets torch or lantern in hand.

Flames or embers from a fire, even if kept well under control, were a constant threat to the safety of citizens. When a fire broke out, the whole of Montréal was at risk as there was no fire pump. As soon as the flames spread to several houses, pails of water could not contain the fire. It fed off the large amounts of wood used in the construction of houses, including those with walls made of stonework.

Fires represented a major hazard, as evidenced by their frequency and by the numerous ordinances issued to either prevent them or reduce their devastating consequences. Apart from the losses incurred by the fire of 1734, Montréal had been the victim of an even more devastating fire in 1721. Yet, in spite of ordinances, later fires again destroyed sections of the city in 1754, 1765, 1768 and 1803.

How did people react to the fire? Were precautions taken to reduce the risk of fire? What were the most common fire hazards? How could fires be contained? What regulations were put into place to help fire fighters extinguish a fire? In spite of the fear of fire, did the inhabitants follow the ordinances to the letter?

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