ECHRS displaying 1980 explosion exhibit over the month of February

by Sylene Argent

Over the month of February, an exhibit highlighting Essex’s natural gas explosion that took place in the early hours on Valentine’s Day in 1980 will be on display at the Essex & Community Historical Research Society (ECHRS). The exhibit was created to make information from old newspaper articles and an assortment of photos from an array of collections available to the public for viewing.

  The reason for the exhibit, featuring Essex’s second explosion, is that the event, which shook the small town and left over a year of rebuilding in its commercial core, took place 40-years ago this month.

  When viewing the material, what stands out to most visitors to the local historical building is that no one was killed in the explosion that occurred near Talbot Street and the former train tracks. Laurie Kowtiuk, President of the ECHRS said that there is always something new to learn about this historical event.

  According to, the 1980 explosion took place after a car was driven into a natural gas meter, which filled the then hardware store there with natural gas. One block of buildings on the east side of Talbot was levelled after the explosion took place, in addition to all the buildings on the west side of the street, from Wilson Street to Victoria Avenue, being damaged.

  Essex’s first explosion took place in August of 1907. Two railway workers were killed and others were injured. A boxcar full of dynamite ignited on a hot day.

  A new display will be highlighted at the ECHRS facility every month. In December, visitors enjoyed looking at a 1920 display, complete with swimsuits and clothing from the era, in celebration of the time period that took place a century ago.

  ECHRS is dedicated to preserving and promoting local history. Currently, volunteers are busy continuing to preserve and digitize area land deeds as well as creating family trees for its members. New members can have their family tree worked on by ECHRS volunteers when they join. DNA testing is also keeping the volunteers at the local historical club busy.

  Currently on display at the ECHRS facility are items donated from George Billing and his daughter, Jean. This family came from North Ridge, Kowtiuk said. Items include a sickle, old books, photos, costume jewelry, and household items. 

Coming up, ECHRS will host its annual fundraising dinner at the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch (201) on Saturday, March 28 to help cover the expenses that will ensure the local historical group’s facility can continue to be maintained.