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The Shawnigan Lake Volunteer Fire Department – The Early Days

Updated: Feb 6

Although the tales of the old days are colourful, probably no one would like to accept all the primitive facilities that they took for granted. In the thirties, Shawnigan had a very exclusive water system, serving a few buildings, and electricity was just being installed. In the sixties, the village enjoyed utilities that were probably equal to those of any unorganized community of like size.

The single most important agent behind these modern improvements was the Shawnigan Improvement District, born in 1950, whereby the unorganized district can tax itself for certain stated improvements; and its most important tool is the Shawnigan Fire Department.

The Fire Department, always a source of village pride, grew out of the fire-fighting division of the A.R.P. in the 1939-45 war.

V.R. (Ray)Dougan, J. R. Aitken and E. G. Gibson (who was then local A.R.P. warden) are the only members of that first crew who were still in the fire department in 1966.

Following the war, the fire-fighters carried on as the Shawnigan Lake Fire Brigade, and was able to keep the A.R.P. (Civil Defence) equipment including hose, two pumps, the Bickle and Wajax and the siren, which sat on top of the fire hall and still sounds the alert well into the late 20th century.

From 1945-1950, the Brigade acquired an old Packard car which Ray Dougan remodeled as a fire truck, and erected a building to house it on the present Museum site. Progress was being made, not too fast, but seemingly in keeping with the size of the village, with funds raised mainly by donation.

Then in 1949, a tragedy occurred in Shawnigan in which two lives were lost in a disastrous fire. The fire brigade attended and did all that was possible, but it was brought home forcibly to the village people that the best in fire-fighting equipment is not too expensive and no community too small to afford it when lives are at stake.

Early in 1950, the Shawnigan Improvement District was formed, a vehicle whereby the cost of fire protection is borne by the taxpayers.

From the mid 1950s to mid-1960s, the Shawnigan Volunteer Fire Department (successors to the Shawnigan Lake Fire Brigade) acquired a new truck (pumper), a fire hall—built by the firemen almost exclusively, a pick-up used as an inhalator truck and as an auxiliary vehicle towing an extra pump, breathing apparatus, smoke ejector, two-way radio, first aid equipment, about 4000 feet of hose and many other aids.

The Shawnigan Lake Museum moved into the Fire Hall in 1983 when the current hall was built to the east on Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road.

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