The "Noronic" Disaster
Photos by Alan L Brown - Posted April, 2004
Photo Source - Wikipedia
Photo Source - City of Toronto Archives
Photo Source - City of Toronto Archives
Did you know that the SS Noronic, flagship of the Canada Steamship Lines and the largest passenger cruise ship on the Great Lakes, ended her life here at a dock in Toronto? After more than a thousand safe voyages, the end came in fire and death. This Ontario Heritage Trust plaque in a park, just to the west of the Ferry Docks at the foot of Bay Street, gives the details:
Coordinates: 43.639983 -79.3761
On the evening of September 16, 1949, the "Noronic", a Great Lakes cruise ship carrying 524 passengers, docked at Pier 9, 100 metres east of here. At 1:30 the next morning a passenger noticed smoke seeping from a locked closet. Crew members fought the fire, but it erupted into a life-threatening inferno before they could waken everyone aboard. Passengers descended the gangway, climbed down ropes, leapt onto the dock, or jumped into the harbour. Firefighters, police and passers-by assisted, but 119 perished. All but one were American passengers. An inquiry resulted in stricter fire safety enforcement which forced older cruise ships out of service and caused a decline in passenger shipping on the lakes.
Here are the visitors' comments for this page.
> Posted May 16, 2016
I stood with my family at the foot of what I am pretty certain was Carlaw Avenue, just on the south side of the overpass, and watched that fire. As I recall, it was in the early hours of the blaze, but the crowd was kept so far back from the pier that we saw only the flames. My father had bundled Mom, my two brothers and I into the car and drove from Birchcliffe (Scarborough) to as close as we could get. Then we walked to the spot and stood there watching. I recall shivering as I watched the flames billow upward. There was a loud hissing sound...as water hit the flames. The entire waterfront was crowded with onlookers, and the police began encouraging us to return to our homes. Although I was 14 at the time, it bothers me that I don't have a clearer memory of the events of that night. Today as I approach my 81st Birthday, I can remember so many events from my childhood, but this memory is vague.
Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner P.O. Box 937 Dresden ON N0P 1M0
> Posted October 31, 2015
By coincidence, I found myself boarding a Toronto ferry on the anniversary of this disaster, September 17. Thousands passed this historical marker that day without taking heed, likely unaware of the significance of the date. Like the passengers on the Noronic, they were too busy with friends and families in the present moment to think much about what had happened right there, years ago. In 1999, when the plaque was unveiled on the 50th anniversary, some guests came from Michigan and beyond to remember their ancestors who perished.
> Posted August 26, 2015
I would be interested in speaking to anyone who observed the tragic burning of the Noronic or who helped in the aftermath or who is a survivor or a relative of one. I am writing a news media article. Thanks. Valerie.firstname.lastname@example.org
> Posted May 27, 2013
As an interesting factual note,after that horrible disaster...once all the investigations where done the hull an the upper structure was towed to Hamilton an salvaged as scrap, save for the whistle that is in the Marine Museum on the CNE grounds....true ?. Well that is not the case, I have in my personal collection of various items, a key including the fob, both in pristine condition. The key is a brass coloured key and the fob is a medium brown colour. Stamped on it is Northern Navigation Co....Sarnia Ontario, reverse side in black lettering ....Steamer Noronic......key stamped 217. Thanks for allowing me to share this piece of history in what became the turning point in passenger ships sailing the Great Lakes which was sad.
> Posted November 29, 2011
Interesting site. I had the misfortune of seeing this great ship while it was on fire. If given a choice, I would have rather liked to have seen her in her glory just by being moored in Toronto at any given time. I was only 6 years old at the time but can vividly remember seeing the glowing flames. My parents first heard the news on their car radio while we were driving home from my grandparents (mother's side) place and I can remember them saying in shock, "God, the Noronic is on fire" and we had to pass close by on the way home. My parents were on the Noronic on a couple of occasions. I have since started a collection of postcards and images of the Noronic in honour of those who perished on her on that fateful night.
> Posted September 20, 2009
This brought back vivid memories for me as a 7 year old my parents had had to take me along as they responded to requests for help. I remember them carrying stacks of blankets and thermoses of coffee in the middle of the night. ( No babysitters available). I don't think they realized the enormity of the tragedy when they got the call.
> Posted August 4, 2009
Very interesting! Thank You! I am was read tall about this disaster in book "How the steamboat was killed the town" by Leo Scryagin (c) "Transport" Edition, Moscow, USSR, 1989. (Russian language). Now developed big-book about shipwrecks in seas, lakers, rivers, ports and docks from XVII centuries to our days. Many tells by Leo Scryagin and other authors, illustrations, maps, seas/sailors dictionary. Chapters about disasters vessels - overkills, fired, collisions, explosives (also "Montblanc" steamship wrecks in Halifax, 1917), lost in nowhere, criminal acts, during the wars, attacks from sea animals, big storms and other factors. In the chapter "Fire on a board!" planed article "Brocken glass and press the button" - about "Noronic" burning. Also, planed tells about other shipwrecks on Great Lakes - "Carl D.Bradley", "Edmond Fitzgerald", "Eastland". Born of this book planned in 2010-2011 year.
With pleasure, Georges Michael, Moscow, Russia
> Posted August 4, 2009
My Father's parents, my grandparents both died in the ship fire. I am currently speaking with people at The Canadian Consul in Detroit about having a 60th anniversary memorial this Sept. 16th. No word on that yet
> Posted July 5, 2008
My aunt, uncle and their friend were on the ship the night of the fire. I do not believe that they would have survived had it not been for the fact that my Uncle had worked on ships for many years and knew where the escapes routes and exits were. They were forced to climb over some of the dead and still barely made it out.
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