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Ontario Fire College always about saving lives, says archivist

Archivist will talk about the Ontario Fire College, which operated for more than six decades in Gravenhurst, at upcoming OMAH History Speaker Series event

The Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) History Committee welcomes back Judy Humphries, the head of the Gravenhurst Archives, as guest speaker on Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

The Gravenhurst Archives holds a treasure trove of stories about the history of the area. Judy will share one of those stories with her talk, The Ontario Fire College – Then and Now: It was always about saving lives!

Did you know that Gravenhurst became widely known between 1897 and 1930 as a centre of treatment for tuberculosis, one of the deadliest diseases of the 19th and early 20th centuries?

The first free sanatorium in the world was opened in Gravenhurst in 1902. Two more sanatoriums would be opened in Gravenhurst in the second decade of the 20th century. With its “clean, health-giving air” and its “clear, pure waters” Gravenhurst had become associated with healthy living and life-saving properties.  

But by 1950 the impact of tuberculosis had been diminished if not vanquished by newly developed drugs and procedures, and the need for sanatoriums had begun to die out.  The last one closed in Gravenhurst in the early 1950s.

Perhaps it was serendipity that brought the property of the Muskoka Free Hospital to the attention of the Fire Marshal of Ontario in the mid-1950s. W.J. Scott was a man with a mission.

He believed that the danger of fire to life and property would never be quelled until firefighters and particularly fire officers could receive the training necessary to deal with the explosion of new and hazardous building materials, building designs and the transportation of hazardous materials by road and rail. And then of course, there was the new and horrifying threat of nuclear armaments. 

In 1949 Scott had managed to insert a milestone into Ontario legislation – the creation of an Ontario Fire College. All he needed to make that a reality was a place where he could open such a college. Here was a government with a 90-acre property waiting for a purpose and here was an Ontario Fire Marshal looking for just such a property. The Ontario Fire College was born in October 1958.

For the next 63 years, fire officers as well as firefighters from across Ontario would come to Gravenhurst to the Ontario Fire College to prepare for their roles in saving lives and property from the hazards of fire in an increasingly hostile environment. Before it was closed by the Ontario government in 2021, thousands of students from across Canada would pass through its doors.

Join Judy for a visual history and tour of the Ontario Fire College as it evolved to become a state-of-the-art fire training facility for over six decades. Don’t miss it!

To receive a link to the talk or any of the talks visit: http://www/ or call Monica at 705-326-2159.  

Admission is free, but donations to OMAH are appreciated. 

Next up, on Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. on Zoom join Michael Hill, former Artistic Director of the Mariposa Folk Festival, and author of The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History, with his talk 60 Years of Mariposa. Mike will recount the festival’s musical and financial ups-and-downs, and provide insight into the interesting people involved in staging one of Canada’s iconic cultural events.