The Best Laid Plans: Fire Insurance Mapping on Prince Edward Island by John Boylan
Hot Time in the Old Town
"Large flakes of burning shingles were carried for miles up the Hillsborough River and the roar and rush of the flames; as they leaped from house to house; might be heard for miles round; whilst the heat was so intense that no person could stand within one hundred yards range of the fire, even on the windward side of it, without being almost scorched or suffocated. The streets and squares presented a strange and saddening spectacle. Piles of household furniture, and goods broken and shattered, were scattered on all sides, and cows, pigs, horses and poultry roamed at large without regard to the City Laws, Hog Reeves, or Acts of Parliament."
Charlottetown Herald, 18 July 1866
Charles Goad: The Man with the Plan
Insurance Plan Production
Transition and Decline
Fire Insurance Plans on the Island
Every fire insurance plan includes a key that explains the symbols and colours used to represent building features. Using the example of the building now known as Beaconsfield Historic House (2 Kent Street), we can see how insurance plans concisely convey information. In the hand-coloured original, the yellow shading of Beaconsfield indicates a wooden building. The main body of the house is two-and-a-half stories with a mansard roof. The mansard roof features shingled sides and a composite material top. The one-and-a-half storey wing closest to West Street has a similarly- finished mansard roof. There is a verandah around much of the main body of the house, with a one storey entrance porch facing Kent Street. The back of the main body of the house features a bay, with a second bay off the side wing. Street addresses associated with the property are also indicated; a number "10" closest to Kent Street, and numbers "14" and "18" attached to ancillary buildings on West Street. The check mark with a cross-hatch through it on the main house and the carriage house is a pencilled-on mark likely added by an insurance agent. Researchers familiar with the Beaconsfield property will be interested to note the location of the carriage house before it was moved and substantially added-to. More mysterious is the small one storey building numbered 14 West Street. Long gone, its purpose is not clear. When working from black and white microfilmed copies of fire insurance plans, researchers should remember that the originals use colour to indicate construction materials. Darkened patches (such as on the bottom half of the Beaconsfield carriage house) or irregular lines on microfilmed copies often indicate where correction slips have been pasted over original base maps. If in doubt, consult the original whenever possible.
On Prince Edward Island, the use of fire insurance plans was closely linked to the operations of the Prince Edward Island Board of Insurance Underwriters. Founded in 1883, this board was made up of local representatives of insurance companies doing business in the province. While the PEI board appears to have had access to a variety of services (such as fire insurance mapping) provided by national insurance organizations, it was for many years largely autonomous in its operations.
"Fire Insurance Plans in the Collection of the Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island"
Fire Insurance Plans and the Researcher
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