'We will never forget': Montreal remembers those killed in Blue Bird Café fire 50 years ago

·2 min read
The city of Montreal held a ceremony Thursday to commemorate the 37 victims who died in the tragic fire at the Blue Bird Café and the Wagon Wheel Bar 50 years ago.   (CBC - image credit)
The city of Montreal held a ceremony Thursday to commemorate the 37 victims who died in the tragic fire at the Blue Bird Café and the Wagon Wheel Bar 50 years ago. (CBC - image credit)

Fifty years after one of Montreal's worst tragedies took place, a ceremony was held Thursday to remember the 37 people who lost their lives in the Blue Bird Café fire.

"I saw the big ball of fire. So I went there and I tried to help people," said André Mainville, a former detective with the Montreal police service.

He rushed to the scene, saw people on fire and tried to extinguish the flames with his jacket. He said witnesses provided him with the suspects' license.

The cafe had a western bar above it known as the Wagon Wheel. Located on Union Street downtown, not far from Ste-Catherine Street, it was a popular spot for young Montrealers to enjoy music, dancing and drinks.

On Sept. 1, 1972, three young men were denied entry and retaliated by lighting the place ablaze.

That evening, the owner of the Blue Bird, Léopold Paré, had blocked the emergency exit to stop people from using it as a way to get in without paying the entrance fee.

Around 50 firefighters responded to the fire, taking two and a half hours to get it under control and rescuing those still caught inside. More than 50 people were injured, with most victims between the ages of 18 and 25.

Among the dead was Linda Livingstone. She was 19.

Her brother attended the solemn ceremony in Montreal on Thursday, held in Phillips Square.

"I'll never forget hearing my mother screaming at five o'clock in the morning. That was what woke me up," said Robert Livingstone.

He said his sister was full of life and great with people. But when she didn't catch the last bus home that night, a special part of his life was taken away.

CBC
CBC

He said he can't put into words what it is like to see so many people gathered 50 years later to remember those who died in the fire.

"The only thing I can say is, Linda, I love you," Livingstone said.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke during the ceremony, remembering those who died in the fire while elaborating on the efforts the fire and police services have made to improve their response to emergencies.

The city has also improved building codes to ensure there are enough emergency exits.

Plante said many of those who responded to the emergency were scarred by what they saw, especially given the young age of the victims. In 2012, she recalled, the city unveiled a memorial to the 37 victims.

"We will never forget what happened that sad evening," she said.

Montreal's interim police chief Sophie Roy said no one deserves to die like that, noting how young most of the victims were that night.

"Those victims are still in our thoughts even if it has been 50 years," she said. "I salute the resilience of the survivors."