Monday, July 11, 2016

10 Part Series on the Major Fires of Saint-Hyacinthe (Part 6) January 18, 1938

Fire At Sacred Heart College
The fire of the Sacred Heart College, which occurred January 18, 1938, in addition to completely destroying the building, resulted in the death of forty students, five teachlng brothers and caused injuries to twenty others.
But, anyway, what was this college? Where was it located? What congregation of religious teachers was in charge? And what do we know of the fire?

First, what was this college? It was a school where students received extensive instruction in mathematics, physics and chemistry, to be able to upgrade their education in higher spheres. In early 1930, the college began to emphasize the teaching of the English language: mathematics and geography, among others, there were taught in that language. Where was it located? The Sacred Heart College was located in Bourg-Joli, on Laframboise street, which was erected in 1946, the church Sacred Heart of Jesus, so in the northeast of the city of Saint-Hyacinthe. Following the fire, the Sacred Heart Brothers decided not to rebuild the college and divided in 1945, their vast property into lots, thus promoting residential development in the neighborhood.
According to the newspapers, that night was particularly cold, we speak of -18 degrees Celsius which would hinder the work of firefighters.

Returning newspaper articles recount the testimony of the night of the college keeper, Marcel Quesnel, before the inquiry we read the morning of the fire, I had done my tour and everything was normal in the building. Suddenly, at 1 am or so I do not know exactly, I heard a great noise and was shaken by a violent explosion that shook the whole building, I looked outside and saw flames coming through the windows. Also, it was established that the first call to the fire station was housed in 2 hours?

This is a tremendous explosion and a mournful whistle that I was awake. I made the light and foreseeing a misfortune, I clothe myself in gear and out of college by the door. The thick smoke that filled the college prevented me to see anything inside. On leaving, I looked around the chapel where everything was normal and went to the alarm box, but firefighters were already on the scene. The whole wing of the side was like burning but the fire seemed to come from the cellar. Such is the tetimony of brother Lucius, college director.

The fire began following a gas explosion produced by the incomplete combustion of coal in one or more of the five furnaces that provided heating the facility. For their part, the testimony of the first firefighters arrived at the scene say they have toured the building to see if they could help some people who would be in the windows or on the roof. The only person who has been seen is a Brother who was in a first floor window at the end of the north-west wing of the building on fire. When the brigade arrived on the scene the flames were coming through all the windows of the right wing and passed over the building, and this is what explains that if he were still children on the roof, they had been pushed back by the flames to the center of the roof where nobody could see them ... Even if the brigade had lifesaving nets at its disposal, it could not be used.Besides, it was impossible to approach the building, as the heat from the fire was intense.

Arriving at the scene, firefighters were quick to help the religious and the students who had escaped the burning building and waited in sleepwear to come to their aid. Taxis and auto citizens who had been awakened by the general alarm, carried the survivors, as ambulances St. Charles Hospital were not enough to collect the injured. The cries of students gathered on the roof and shouted for help, mingled complaints of those who were thrown from the upper floors and already lying in the snow with horrible burns and multiple fractures. That's the horrible spectacle that presented rescuers.

Of course, all kinds of rumors, probabilities or outcomes about this slaughter were conveyed before, during or after the inquest. What you need to remember is the perfect abnegation religious to rescue the students and the great charity Maskoutains to gather and help the survivors, not to mention the attentive care given to victims, either at the hospital Saint-Charles, at the Hôtel-Dieu or by doctors of Saint-Hyacinthe.

In the early days that followed, intensive research to find the bodies of missing or unaccounted for continued to finally establish the exact number of deaths is: 5 and 41 religious students. The remains of forty-six victims, found in the rubble, charred and mutilated could not be identified, except those three students, demanded that parents; others were placed in fifteen coffins.

A solemn service was celebrated at the Cathedral in the presence of an emotional and sympathetic crowd. Then fifteen beers were brought to the grave of the cemetery, waiting for the thaw allowed digging a mass grave in the small cemetery of the monks, near the stricken college.This transfer took place in the following May current. In May 1948, during the sale of land belonging to the Sacred Heart Brothers, the remains of the victims and the magnificent monument to the victims, which serves as the foundation for the statue of the Sacred Heart, the sculptor Emile Brunet, were transferred the Cathedral's cemetery.

(Translation may contain errors)

(c)2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson

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