Durkin Street

Durkin Street is named in honour of Hugh Durkin, firefighter

Funeral Procession 1913

Hugh Durkin, fire chief

During a storm at about 12:45 a.m. on May 13, 1913, the famous spire on Knox Presbyterian Church was struck by a great bolt of lightning. The spire was set ablaze, resulting in a tragedy unlike any experienced before by the city's first responders.

Flames were seen about 50 feet from the top of the steeple by Const. Mathew Hamilton and he notified the Stratford Fire Brigade. Firefighters who arrived under the command of Chief Hugh Durkin found fire encircling the steeple being fanned by strong winds.

When the fire burned down to the roof on the southwest corner, a ladder was placed on the southeast end to enable a hose crew to get up on the roof to try to contain the fire in the steeple. Before that could be accomplished the tip of the wooden ladder caught fire and Chief Durkin called for assistance to move it. All firefighters were occupied manning the hose lines, so police Chief John McCarthy and Const. Hamilton jumped in to assist the fire chief, as they had done so many times before.

When bringing the ladder back, a large section of the burned-out steeple slid off the roof. Chief Durkin yelled,“Look out boys, get back.” But it was too late; the burning debris fell on the men. Firefighters and volunteers quickly dug them out. Police Chief John McCarthy Jr. (see McCarthy Road) and Const. Hamilton were killed instantly. Fire Chief Durkin died on his way to the hospital.

He was 46 years old and unmarried. He came to Stratford in 1890 and joined the Stratford Fire Brigade that year. He was appointed captain in 1902 and became chief in 1910. Private funeral services were held for all three civic employees at their respective homes.

The entire city closed down and thousands went to the city hall for a combined public service. An impressive funeral cortege proceeded to Avondale Cemetery, where all three were buried. A crowd estimated to be 16,000 lined the entire route to the cemetery in respectful silence, with only the sound of the large fire bell tolling their last alarm. Source: Their Last Alarm by Robert Kirkpatrick

Michael and Catherine Durkin were Hugh Durkin's parents. They are the great grandparents of Mary Jane Lennon, author of A Stratford Album, Memories of the Festival City. In this photo, by Julia Lennon, they are sitting outside their cottage ast 116 Cobourg St. Their son, Fire Chief Hugh Durkin, was one of three people who died fighting the Knox Church fire in 1913. The Durkins were once described as "nice people but awfully fond of readin'."