Great Fire of 1892 is coming to a smartphone near you

Published on July 7, 2014
A map shows the route of a Walk St. John’s app centring on the Great Fire of 1892.

— Submitted photo

Newfoundlanders can travel back in time today using a time machine that can fit in the palms of their hands. In honour of its July 8 anniversary, the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust is live tweeting the events of the Great Fire of 1892.

This modern take on the history lesson accompanies the launch of the newest version of the Walk

St. John’s app. The app allows users to guide themselves through several historic walking tours of the city, including old downtown, the historic east and west ends, and Quidi Vidi Village. The newly updated version includes a tour following the path of the Great Fire and can also now be used on Android devices.

The Newfoundland and Labra­dor Historic Trust is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the province’s heritage. Executive director Deborah O’Rielly says the organization wants to use social media and interactive apps to make their work more accessible to the public, particularly young people.

“We’re trying to appeal to lots of different kinds of people and perhaps change the perception that we’re just stodgy people who are just out to save old buildings for no purpose,” said O’Rielly. “We really want to make history come alive and we want to appeal to all generations to show that there’s value in everything they see around them.

“We’ve had a lot of tourists come to us who don’t understand what the buildings mean and what they’re all about, but there’s also a lot of local people who don’t get it.”

The Great Fire of 1892 is remembered as one of the most devastating events in St. John’s history. What began as a small stable fire grew to destroy most of the city, leaving 11,000 people homeless and costing $13 million in damages. It was responsible for three deaths and a dramatic economic downturn as the city clamoured to rebuild.

“It is important to us to show people how resilient Newfoundlanders are, how resilient the people of St. John’s are, and to show that (despite) devastating fires like the 1892 fire, we were able to rebuild everything that was there and come back even stronger than before,” said O’Rielly.

The group will live tweet as if it was July 8, 1892, from @NLHistoricTrust using the hashtag #GreatFire1892.

Although the fire actually began around 5 p.m. and lasted well into the next morning, O’Rielly says the live tweeting will not stick completely to schedule, but will instead begin around 9 a.m.