Having long been used as an invaluable tool for researchers, planners, architects, insurance adjusters, and even environmental consultants, fire insurance plans can tell us a lot about the history of our cities and towns. Not only do they show us what materials a building was constructed from, but also other information such as what the street names and addresses were, property setbacks, location of openings such as doors and windows, and the purpose of the building at that time. There was one company that dominated the fire insurance plan industry in Canada between 1875 and 1917. That was the firm of Charles E. Goad, Civil Engineers of Montréal. By 1910, his firm had produced detailed fire insurance plans for over 1300 cities and towns in Canada, plus hundreds more around the world. In this week’s article, I’ll show you how to read a fire insurance plan and how you might find one useful if you live or work in an older building.
The nineteenth century was a pioneering time on so many levels for Canadian society. It was a great century for the expansion of the west, the Confederation of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada and scientific discoveries led to the development of the telegraph, electric power and the automobile by the end of the century. Yet, in these developments, there was an artistic revolution happening in the heart of Canada’s cultural mecca of Montréal. That revolution, which would transform Canadian society from coast to coast, was the development of photography. Throughout the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth, an image of Canada was broadcast to the rest of the world as a place of beauty, grandeur and vast diversity in its landscapes and its people. At the forefront of that revolution of photographic wonder was the William Notman and Son Studio from Montréal.