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Seagrave: Birthplace of the Modern Firetruck

By Carl Morgan  (co-author & publisher of "Pioneering the Auto Age" (available in local bookstores)  and former editor of The Windsor Star).

seagraves.jpgIf you happen to have a soft spot in your heart for historic old buildings - and an extra $350,000 gathering dust in your pocket - take a closer look at a long, narrow, two story red-brick building on Walker Road between Richmond and Niagara streets.

Like the vast majority of people who travel Walker Road on a regular basis, you have probably seen it without really seeing it - or, more importantly, without knowing that it was home of the first company to produce a motorized fire engine in Canada.

Until recently, it was believed that the building had been erected sometime between 1895 and 1904. However, a search of the Town of Walkerville assessment rolls by Municipal Archivist Linda Chakmak, reveals that as late as 1904, a row of six private homes (lots 37 to 47) were located on that stretch of Walker, or 5th Street as it was known at that time. A year later, the registry shows the lots were owned by W.E. Seagrave, the head of W.E. Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company of Ohio (established 1881).

So far, no records have surfaced showing precisely when construction began or finished but we can surmise that it was Seagrave who built the building as the Canadian subsidiary of his successful Ohio fire truck company. Walt McCall, retired Manager, Public Relations at Chrysler Canada, is one of this country's leading authorities on fire apparatus equipment and companies. According to McCall, the Canadian Seagrave operation was essentially an assembly company, using materials shipped to Walkerville from the manufacturing plant in Ohio.

In 1907 Seagrave assembled its first motorized fire apparatus, shipping three engines to Vancouver. In 1910 the city of Windsor bought a Seagrave aerial truck and in 1914, bought a Seagrave motor powered pumper which was in use until 1947.

Seagrave turned out hundreds of fire engines for fire departments across Canada. When the Seagrave combination truck purchased by the City of London was heavily damaged in a train collision in 1913, the fire department thought so highly of the vehicle that, instead of scrapping it, the truck was sent back to Walkerville to be rebuilt.seagrave2.jpg

For sixteen years, Seagrave produced air and water-cooled fire engines but found himself in financial trouble when rival American-LaFrance set up in Toronto in 1915. To save his company, Seagrave tried merging with Loughead Machine Company in Sarnia and produced a line of heavy-duty trucks. The move failed and the company locked its doors in 1923.

Currently owned by Germail Mann, the principal building of the Seagraves site (the middle portion of the site which is comprised of three attached structures) houses a cabinet making operation and a body shop.

Although the building appears to be down-at-the-heels, its historical importance overrides its physical condition. It is one of the last known industrial buildings still standing in Walkerville that can trace its roots back to the early years of the 20th Century (despite the fact that in its heyday, Walkerville was the site of dozens of different industrial companies).

What fate awaits this nearly 100 year old building is uncertain. In larger urban centres, it would probably be snapped up for converting into fashionable condos, studios, boutiques or a combination thereof. Now if I only had an extra $350,000!

Click here to read about the Ghost of Seagrave



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