Wednesday, July 13, 2016

10 Part Series on the Major Fires of Saint-Hyacinthe (Part 8) February 2, 1963

Fire in the seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe

Saturday, February 2, 1963, a massive fire broke out in the central part of the Seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe. It took three warnings before control the flames.
Firefighters, under the command of Director Lionel Left worked in difficult conditions, under the cold and snow, over 32 hours to master the elements and then make sure the fire would not resume in the smoking ruins. Apparently, the flames would have originated in the premises reserved for the edition of the newspaper Le Collégien . After a brief investigation, the authorities are lost in conjectures about the precise cause of the fire.

The central part of the minor seminary built 150 years ago was completely destroyed by fire while the adjacent wings, newer and better protected building, suffered only damage by water and smoke.

Firefighters went immediately to the scene and, upon arrival, firefighters worked to make rescues using the aerial ladder and removing six priests threatened with suffocation.Fortunately, the institution's authorities had already taken steps to evacuate students and much of the teaching staff.

However, the flames quickly spread to the point that a few minutes later, the upper floors were inaccessible and dense smoke prevented firefighters and volunteers to fight the seat of the fire from the inside. It is believed, for a time, they maîtriseraient flames without much difficulty. They seemed to subside, then resumed in various places so it was soon impossible to circumscribe, and efforts soon tended to preserve the two new wings, which date also more than thirty years.

Only the central part of the facade where the great parlor were, prefecture offices and procures and floors, the rooms of twenty professors who are in fact the most affected by the fire, was destroyed . A little before eight, the building was a huge inferno. Around 8:15, the dome collapsed noisily, falling in the courtyard of the seminary.

Before the menacing proportions of the element, the City of Saint-Hyacinthe appealed to municipal services surrounding communities including St. Joseph and Providence Douville. The protection of Casavant Frères service was also mobilized to lend a hand to Maskoutains firefighters.

A crowd of onlookers visited the scene causing traffic jams in many places. The stewards of the Civil Protection Corps was also mobilized to assist municipal officials. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 people massed near the seminar to monitor the progress of the fire and the work of firefighters.

It is not known the extent of damage but there is reason to believe that the material losses will amount to more than a million besides the majority of seminarians and priests have lost their belongings.

Fortunately, thanks to the diligence of the authorities of the seminar and fire Saint-Hyacinthe, there were no injuries. However, we dare not think about the consequences of such a disaster if the fire had started later in the evening or at night. Indeed, some 500 students and priests live permanently in the seminar during the school year.

Painful as the situation in the aftermath of a disaster that affects the whole population of the city, it remains that we saved the chapel, the rich library of the house and pupils, the museum and laboratories, academic hall, the pavilion from 1911 where there are number of classes. Study rooms and recreation suffer considerable damage, as most rooms of the staff in the north wing. They are due mainly to water and smoke, but there is nothing that is beyond repair. In the south wing, the priests who lived there returned to their premises, once restored heating.

A thick layer of snow on the roof of the factory would have saved Casavant & Frères Ltée, during the fire. At least that is what a spokesman for organ builders told the result of the fire. The Casavant & Frères Ltée factory is located a few hundred feet away from the seminar. During the height of the fire, the wind blew sparks on the buildings of the factory. The brigade against fires of the company, consisting of seven men, was constantly on alert.

(Translation may contain errors)

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson

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