VICTORIA FIRE DEPARTMENT
Waterous 2nd size Steam Pumper Charles E. Redfern
Photo: Frank DeGruchy, VFDHS
The “Redfern” visits the open house at Saanich Historical Artifacts Society
In early May 1899, the Victoria Fire Department took delivery of a brand new Brantford Ontario built Waterous steam pumper, the first acquired since 1889. As was the practice at the time, the engine was named for a member of the city council-actually, it may have been a good idea in that it encouraged the politicians to support the budget required for acquisition. The name of Mayor Charles E. Redfern was accordingly bestowed on the rig, an honour it holds to this day.
The VFD was an early user of steam pumpers, acquiring it’s first, a Button and Blake, in 1867. It was purchased by volunteer Fire fighters, the Tiger Engine Company. Additional steamers joined the Department roster over succeeding decades—the Redfern was the fifth of a total of eight, the last being delivered in 1911.
Initially drawn by a two horse team, the Redfern received three horse draft gear after 1907 – an improvement recommended after problems during a major fire. The horses also didn’t tire as quickly sharing the 5 ton load of the steamer and the response time to a fire was shorter.
The phasing out of horse drawn apparatus, which began in June 1911, saw three recently acquired formerly horse drawn rigs being converted by the addition of motor tractors—1912 Seagraves. All four Waterous engines were perfectly capable of doing their job and so, once converted, continued in VFD service for several years. It’s doubtful whether the Redfern, which went into reserve during World War I was ever motor-drawn.
Ironically, the Redfern survived, probably because it was the oldest of the existing steamers. Over the decades it spent most of it’s time in storage at the No.1 Hall on Cormorant Street, only being hauled out for parades. Attempts to sell the engine for scrap during world War II were fended off by the Department, as was a U.S. collector who wanted to purchase it. When the present Headquarters was completed in 1959, The Redfern was placed in a glass display case on Yates in front of the new building where it remained for over two decades.
It became apparent by the early 1980s that the condition of the old pumper was deteriorating and so it was decided that it would be removed into storage.
A short term display of the 1899 pumper at Transpo 86 World’s Fair in Vancouver, inspired several former and serving members of the VFD to attempt a restoration. With the support of the Department and City of Victoria and members of the community, a total off-frame restoration was carried out over the succeeding five years.
The original boiler was replaced in order to conform with current Provincial standards for “pressure vessels” as were a number of valves and fittings. The engine and pump were also completely rebuilt, and hard suction hoses were replaced. The driver’s seat and tool box were replicated, and the original oak wheels, once ‘tires’ were reshrunk onto the rims, were remounted. For safety reasons, the century old wheels were later examined thoroughly for fractures—they passed. Many metal parts were replated and the chassis was pinstriped and lettered.
Intially, the restored engine was drawn by a two horse team but after a few parade seasons, was replaced by 3 horse draft gear—as in 1907, it was decided that it would be easier on the horses.
The CHARLES E. REDFERN has, for over a decade, served as the standard bearer for the City of Victoria and the Victoria Fire Department. The process of preservation, conservation, and restoration, works.
Text: David Parker, Historian/Curator, VFDHS
The restoration process is underway ca. 1990
Photo: Frank DeGruchy, VFDHS
The VFDHS takes part in numerous community events,
in this case Canada Day, in Victoria’sBeacon Hill Park.