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Niagara Falls
Friday, July 12, 2024
Exploring History: Fire insurance plaque, 1836
One of the metal plaques provided by fire insurance companies to homeowners who had purchased insurance coverage, dated 1836 with the words "Niagara District Mutual Fire Insurance Co." NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE MUSEUM PHOTO
In Upper Canada during the early 19th century, metal plaques were provided by fire insurance companies to homeowners who had purchased insurance coverage. The plaque in the museum’s collection is oval in shape and depicts two hands shaking at the top centre above the date 1836, followed by the words “Niagara District Mutual Fire Insurance Co.”
Open fires were an essential part of living in those days, used for heating in winter and cooking throughout the year. But with many fires often unprotected and unguarded, and many houses made almost entirely of wood, serious fires were quite common and often devastating. The intention was that the homeowner displayed the plaque on the outside of his house so that firefighters, arriving to extinguish the fire, would see the plaque and know that they would be paid by the insurance company upon successful completion of their job. It is said that fire brigades would sometimes refuse to put out a fire if there was no immediate evidence of fire insurance on the property.
Indeed, fire was so ever-present and potentially catastrophic at that time that it became common for many insurance companies to own and operate their own fire brigades until that responsibility was passed over to local government in 1866.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, there is one known fire insurance plaque on a house dating from those times. It is at the Whale Inn, adjacent to the Niagara River at the junction of King and Delater streets.

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