One of the worst disasters in Toronto’s history happened on the 17th of September, 1949 when the SS Noronic caught fire while docked overnight in Toronto Harbor, killing an estimated 139 people. A cruise ship for the great lakes, it caught fire when what is believed to be a discarded cigarette set a linen closet ablaze and spread quickly due to the old oil-polished wood throughout the entire ship, compounded by a malfunctioning fire hose aboard and crew who quickly escaped rather than assisting in waking up and directing passengers off the ship.
As disasters go, it’s largely forgotten here, possibly because the victims of it were mostly travelers and not residents. I remember hearing about it from a friend of my grandfather, oddly enough, while on a cruise - I imagine the conversation went that way because we were discussing safety aboard ships. He spoke only once about it; he had been a fire chief or such at the time and didn’t have to say much about it, other than all the first responders left the disaster forever changed by it, himself included by his reaction.
The Royal York Hotel was used as a triage center once the hospitals were full, the Horticultural Building at the CNE was used as a makeshift morgue, and the actual location of the fire was Pier 9, approximately where the Westin Harbour Castle sits.
The ship in better days: