Great Fire pocketwatch


In 1886, the city of Vancouver was nearly destroyed by a brushfire which raged out of control. Only a handful of buildings were left standing and dozens of people were injured. Alexander Strathie and his wife Emily managed to escape the blaze by taking refuge onboard the Robert Kerr, a ship which took refugees from the fire to safety in the harbour.
After the fire was extinguished and against her husband’s advice, Emily hired a man to row her back to shore to collect their trunks. Once there, she spotted two First Nations women, one holding her pincushion. Emily asked where she had found the pincushion, and the woman pointed to a location not far off shore. Emily and her rower used an oar to search under the surface of the water, where they found Alexander’s pocketwatch as well as Emily’s gold locket, which had been tangled in a handful of kelp.
Though it survived the fire, being submerged in saltwater effectively ruined the pocketwatch. The glass crystal is missing, as are the hour, minute and second hands.

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6 cm diameter
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City of Vancouver Archives