Residents of Wellesley had the unique opportunity to learn about the rich history of their volunteer fire department during an hour-long lecture by one of the most respected men in their community on Tuesday night. Former fire chief Ron Futher, a past Wellesley Citizen of the Year and a member of the township fire department for 42 years before his retirement in 1999, provided a retrospective look at the evolution of firefighting in Wellesley.
His talk spanned from 1894 when the first fire insurance map of the village was produced, to the acquisition of the department’s new aerial ladder truck earlier this year.
The talk included many tidbits of trivia that most residents likely had no idea of, such as that the first fire engine – if you can call it that – was purchased in 1910.
Futher said that they have no idea what the device actually looked like, but historical records suggest it was a hand-operated pump with a 40-gallon tank purchased from a company near Peterborough.
After a large fire in 1914 required the Baden fire brigade to be called in to assist, the township decided to get serious about its fire prevention, Futher told the crowd of about 50 people at the Wellesley Community Centre.
In December of 1914 William Dingwall was named the township’s first fire chief for a salary of about $6 per year – just over $125 today – and he served in that position until 1919.
In 1925 a series of fire extinguishers were placed in various points around the village, and it wasn’t until 1931 when the township bought its first fire truck.
They paid $2,100 for a used 1926 Dodge fire truck built in St. Catharines. In 1950 they bought their first brand new pumper truck – a truck they still have to this day and which makes an appearance at the annual Wellesley Christmas parade.
But for Futher, who was Wellesley fire chief from 1989 to 1999, one of the biggest advancements in firefighting in the township came in April of 1963 when bylaw #1582 was passed, authorizing the fire department to participate in the new mutual aid program.
“Mutual Aid Association made it easier for area fire departments to work together,” he said. “It was as simple as making sure the hose threads were the same so hoses could be shared, and uniformity in breathing apparatus, and the standardization of other fire retardants.”
That uniformity, he said, made it possible for all the fire stations in the entire region – of which there are now 17 – to work together on any emergency.
“The Mutual Aid Association that we have today is one of the most progressive in Ontario and represents the progress we’ve made over the years.”
Not all the members of the audience were residents of Wellesley, however. Heather De Jong and her mother Arlean Robarts made the hour drive from Seaforth, and her brother Mark came from Guelph along with his wife for the presentation.
They came because they have deep roots in the community. De Jong’s grandfather, Alf Margetts, was the assistant fire chief in the 1930s and fire chief in the 1940s, and her uncle was also a member of the fire department in the 1950s.
They also lived in Wellesley for about a decade back in the 1980s.
“I thought my mother, who is 86, would really enjoy this,” De Jong said. “I thought there might be some interesting heritage facts about our roots, and there were; there are
pictures of my grandfather and uncle here.
“And there are a lot of people here that I know that I’ve had a chance to catch up with.”
The lecture was given in partnership with the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society, and the group’s chairman Ron Hackett sent the crowd away with a few memorable words.
“Firefighters don’t do it for the money. They don’t do it for the glory. They do it for heart,” he said.