The Fire Horses of Fredericton

Jim and Duff, the first fire horses in Fredericton (taken in 1906) Fire Horses were am important part of the fire service in Fredericton in the early 1900's. In the year 1902 the first horses, Duff and Jim were purchased and put into service in the Fire Department. Initially, one was for a hose cart, one for a small ladder wagon. Later, a black team named King and Queen and were in service (during World War 1). Around 1930, a grey team was purchased, named Bill and Doll. When doll retired, a brown mare of the same name took her place.

King and Queen pull the ladder wagon during a parade during World War 1 In the year 1916, the City purchased the first large Ladder Wagon from Massachusetts, which saw service until 1938. It had to give way to the first motorized Ladder Truck, which was built in Fredericton. The Ladder wagon was drawn by two horses, the last of which were very well known throughout the continent. They were Bill and Doll and were the principals in a very widely circulated California newspaper when the city retired them. Bill was kept on by the members of the Department as a mascot until age and disability made it necessary to have him put away.

For many years Bill's Hoofprints were on display in a new section of cement sidewalk in front of the King Street Fire Station and drew comments from visitors form many places. During his retirement, Old Bill was exercised by members of the department, sometimes hitched to a buggy or at other times on long reins. On one of those exercise outings, the drive was going out Smythe Street and nearing the corner of Aberdeen Street when a Box Alarm came in from the corner of Regent and King streets. Old Bill took charge and made his way directly to the Box location by the most direct route and stood along side the new Ladder truck during the fire. It was always said that Old Bill could take you to any Fire Box in the City.

'Fool me once...'
While still on the matter of Old Bill, here are a few of the incidents that took place that had their comical side (as told by driver Hugh O'Neill). One member of the Department found out that this horse had a good memory and the episode is as follows. Old Bill would take any offering of treats without hesitation and after one fire he was back in his stall, with the front doors of the stall opened and the chain across when this member held out to Bill a lemon and he took it and on biting on it his eyes rolled and his ears went up and a most distressed look came over his face. From that day on Bill would not take a single thing from this member even though it was a chocolate bar with the wrapper off, but this member could pass the bar to another member and the horse would take it.

August 23rd, 1934 Another amusing thing happened while I was filling out during Holidays at the station one summer. It was always our pride to show off the horses to many visitors from other parts and I was doing just that for a man and his wife from the Boston area when this episode happened. First, I must tell you that one of Bill's habits was to nip at anything that was shiny, in particular, buttons. He would not bite but just liked to pinch with his lips. This day I gave them their run from the stalls to their place under the harness, this was done by pulling a ring in the floor at the front of the Station which in turn tripped the lock on the doors of the stalls and the horses came at a gallop to the front of the station and placed themselves under the harness which hung from the ceiling on ropes. Once the horses were in place the harness dropped down and in a matter of seconds the horses were ready to go.

On this particular day, after the horses were put back into their stalls, the couple went to the back of the station to look the horses over, being warned before hand of the habit of Old Bill to help himself to anything that took his fancy. The lady in question was wearing a Straw hat in the shape of a beehive and topped with two small yellow birds as was the fashion of that particular year. She held out a couple of life saver candies to Bill on the palm of her hand and Bill trying to get them pushed one of the candies out of her hand and it fell to the floor. Without thinking of the advice that I had given her, she leaned over to retrieve the candy and in doing so Old Bill helped himself to the little birds and half the top of the straw hat. The lady in question, after the shock of losing her hat took the whole episode in very good grace and the couple left the best of friends only to return in about 10 minutes with one of the biggest ice cream cones that I had ever seen and went directly to the stall and fed it to Old Bill.

Speaking of ice cream.... Another happening foremost in Hood's mind concerns three women tourists who came to the station, each with an ice cream cone in her hand. Hood brought the horses out and Bill walked up to one of the visitors, reached for the ice cream and promptly gulped it down much to the surprise of everyone, (except Bill and Hood) especially the woman who "lost" her ice cream cone.

Many other stories could be told of the horses, not just Old Bill but of the other horses that were in the service from time to time.

Click HERE to read a 1938 article in the Toronto Star about the retirement of the Fire Horses

Click HERE for an article that was carried in the Daily Mail newspaper shortly after Bill's death.

Click HERE to read a newspaper article about Bill and Doll that was printed in 1951.

Bill and the original Doll in 1931
The Fire Horses haul the ladder wagon on Queen Street

Early 1930's - Steel framed ladder sled was built by Horsnel Iron Works of Fredericton to replace the old wooden framed one. Horses continued their duties on the ladder wagon until February, 1938, when they were retired.

Photo by Madge Smith
Hugh 'Hood' O'Neill, and Chief Carl Walker

The harnesses dropped from above the horses for a quick hook-up

Summer, 1937

Salvage Corps & Fire Police; Hook & Ladder Company - 1931.
On apparatus: H O'Neill. Standing L to R: Asst Chief Bearisto, Capt TC Doherty (Salvage Corps), G McDonald, C Camp, J Hartt, J Griffiths, J Malloy, J Toner, CJ Toner, R Poore, H Myshrall, S Smith, Capt W Kerr (H&L Co), A Jewett, Chief K Walker

Taken in 1939
The final picture of Bill and Doll together

Click HERE to see the floor plan of the Station
It shows where the horses were kept