Destroyed By Fire

dafoe-house.jpg

In my now completed itinerary of Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of across North America in 1882, you will find logged the more than one hundred hotels or houses where Oscar stayed while lecturing, and illustrated are all the different lecture theatres, music halls, and opera houses where he spoke.

A commonality emerges among most of these venues, and it is exemplified in the phrase most often repeated in the chronicle: Destroyed by Fire—a common occurrence for many public buildings during an era of open hearths, gas lighting, indoor smoking, and a general lack of fire-resistant materials.

Some of the buildings Oscar visited suffered this fate more than once, but none were burned down more times than the Dafoe House in Belleville Ontario.

There had been a Dafoe House at the north-east corner of Bridge and Pinnacle Streets, in Belleville, Ontario (now 211 Pinnacle Street) as far back as 1840s.

The original hostelry had a short life: completed in 1847 it burned down in 1855. Undeterred, the owners rebuilt the Dafoe, this one remaining erect long enough for Oscar to take up residence in 1882, before also burning down—the second hotel was destroyed by fire on October 4, 1886.

After this repeat catastrophe, the land was sold to a Henry Corby, who apparently took more care building a hotel back up on the site: it was nine years before it reopened as Hotel Quinte on February 28, 1895. This magnificent edifice burned down on January 5, 1907.

There’s something of the can-do about Canadians. Just over a year later on February 27, 1908 the builders seemed to have got it right. The new Hotel Quinte reopened and became Belleville’s grandest place to stay. The Quinte served as host to prime ministers and international dignitaries, and remained a stately downtown presence through two world wars and a century of change.

Surely now Oscar’s built environment would no longer continue to succumb to the flames?

However, in the early hours of December 20, 2012, the seemingly inevitable happened. During renovations at the Hotel Quinte the curse struck again and once more the building was gutted by fire and had to be subsequently demolished.

So what now for the corner of Pinnacle and Bridge Streets?

There is planned a $50 million six-storey, 110 condominium, project development to be known as The Pinnacle, but as of June 2020, according to the Belleville Intelligencer, there is no word on when construction will begin.

Encouragingly, perhaps, the place does exist as an artist’s impression, and the signs do say “coming soon”—although these days soon is a relative term.

So until development happens on the site this cautionary tale is offered to those who may read the condos web site (part of the Downtown District online presence) which informs us on its Buy or Lease a Property page:

With its rich history, dating back to 1816, many properties in downtown Belleville have a story to tell. Part of the excitement of owning a building downtown is exploring those stories…

Presumably for the superstitious among prospective purchasers they don’t mean this one.

© John Cooper, 2020

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a researcher, author, blogger and documentary historian. As a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America, he has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde, having lectured on Wilde, and contributing to TV, film, and academic journals including The Wildean and Oscholars. Online he is the designer, author and editor of this noncommercial archive Oscar Wilde in America, blogger, and moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion groups at Yahoo and Google. For the last 14 years he has specialized in new and unique research into Oscar Wilde in New York, where he conducts guided walking tours based on the visits of Oscar Wilde. In 2012 John rediscovered Oscar Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his recent book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

8 thoughts on “Destroyed By Fire”

  1. Have you consulted the 900 pages of survey materials that Richard Butler Glaenzer accumulated when he was working on his (eventually abandoned) study of OW’s lecture tour? The materials are at the Clark.

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    1. Professor Bristow: Thank you for getting in touch. You may recall we met at the University of Delaware a few years ago (after the talks at the donation of the Mark Samuels Lasner collection) and on that occasion you also suggested Glaenzer. I have his book, of course, but unfortunately I still haven’t visited the archive. I know I should, it would be essential research for me, but being on the east coast doesn’t make it readily accessible. I wonder how I should arrange an extended visit?

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      1. The Clark remains closed to users. I’m going to see if I can make a reprographics order for these items, since the library has the current capacity to meet faculty research needs.

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  2. Hi John

    How are you?

    Apols if I have asked already (Gmail search is rubbish on the iPhone). I certainly meant to.

    Want to forward this to Rupert but am intrigued – how come there is no Los Angeles date? Seems so odd as clearly a very comprehensive itinerary!

    Very best Lesley O’Toole

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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