This Week in History (1957): Historic building gutted by fire

Prince George lost one of its oldest landmarks this week in 1957, when the historic Ritts-Kifer Hall — dating to 1914 — was destroyed by a raging fire that burned for 7 hours and became the largest and longest-burning blaze the city had ever seen.

Photo of firefighters working to subdue flames inside the shell of the ice-covered Ritts-Kifer Hall, January 1957.

Firefighters work to contain flames inside the ice-covered shell of the Ritts-Kifer Hall on January 24, 1957. Temperatures were below -40°C. (Photo: The Exploration Place)

The fire began just after 10 p.m. on January 23 and spread quickly — the old frame structure of the Ritts-Kifer “burned like matchwood,” reported the Prince George Citizen. Over 25 firefighters and numerous bystanders battled the blaze in subarctic temperatures of -43°C, chipping ice from their frozen clothing as water from five fire hoses poured over the scene. By 6 a.m. the next morning, the fire had been contained and the Ritts-Kifer completely gutted. Four inches of ice coated the street in front of the building’s blackened shell.

The Ritts-Kifer Hall opened its doors on July 4, 1914, as a community centre, athletic club and dance/banquet hall for the fledgling town of Prince George. Located on the south corner of George Street and 5th Avenue, the building was a hub of social activity for decades. It housed the city fire hall in the early 1940s, and was later subdivided into commercial and residential units by its last owners, who renamed it the Lyon Building.

At the time of the fire, the building contained eight tenants: Albert Stekl Lumber; Blair’s Outfitting; Craftsman Photographers; the Lunch Box delicatessen; Robert Madill, chiropractor; the Prince George Folk Society; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; and a residential unit. Fire damage was estimated at $75,000.

The remains of the Ritts-Kifer were demolished in spring of 1957. Prince George residents didn’t see another fire of that magnitude until the McDonald Hotel burned in 1970.

Early Prince George street scene showing the Ritts-Kifer Hall at right.

The Ritts-Kifer Hall is on the right in this early photograph of the Prince George townsite. (Photo: The Exploration Place)

(Source: Prince George Citizen)

One thought on “This Week in History (1957): Historic building gutted by fire

  1. Pingback: This Week in History (1946): CKPG Radio hits the airwaves « Northern Faces, Northern Places

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