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Montreal honours victims in 1972 club fire

Aug. 31, 2012, Montréal – The City of Montréal today is honouring the 37 men and women who perished in the Sept. 1, 1972 fire at the Blue Bird - Wagon Wheel in downtown Montréal.

August 31, 2012
By Olivia D'Orazio

Aug. 31, 2012, Montréal – The City of Montréal today is honouring the 37 men and women who
perished in the Sept. 1, 1972 fire at the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel in
downtown Montréal.

Mayor Gérald Tremblay, together with Helen Fotopulos, a member of the Montréal Executive Committee, officials with the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal and Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, as well as members of the victims' families, today, 40 years later, paid a moving homage to the victims.

"The events that took place on September 1, 1972, will be forever engraved in the collective memory of Montrealers. This tragic fire not only took the lives of 37 people, but also forever changed the lives of family members and friends," said Mayor Tremblay.

That evening, three men set fire to the staircase connecting the Blue Bird café and the Wagon Wheel country bar after the men were allegedly refused entry to the upstairs bar. Conflicting building code and fire regulations left the upstairs bar without an exit. The fire spread in minutes, claiming 37 lives. Survivors escaped either through the kitchen onto a folding ladder escape, or out a window in the women’s bathroom.

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"On my behalf and that of the City of Montréal, I sincerely hope that these commemoration ceremonies will bring some comfort to those who lost a loved one in the fire. I also wish that this historical footprint displayed in downtown Montréal will become a meeting place where all of you gathered here today may find peace and tranquillity," the mayor said.

"For the past 118 years, it has been a tradition at the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal to hold an annual commemoration of its fallen firefighters. This tribute, in memory of these brave men and women, is of great symbolic value, since it highlights the dedication of firefighters, an essential value of the profession. True to our tradition, we have agreed this year to combine this event with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the tragic fire at the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel, which is forever etched in the history of the Service des incendies de Montréal. We are pleased to be part of this tribute in honour of the victims, their families and loved ones, and in honour of the men and women who answered the call on that day," said Serge Tremblay, Director of the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal.

It was in September 2011, 39 years after the tragedy, that family members and friends of the victims called upon the city to commemorate the 40th anniversary of this tragedy. A focus group led by Helen Fotopulos, member of the Montréal Executive Committee responsible for culture, heritage, design and the status of women, was created and brought together representatives of the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal, Ville-Marie borough and Centre d'histoire de Montréal, under the coordination of the city's Direction de la culture et du patrimoine.

The commemorative gestures that took place today included the unveiling of a historical footprint in square Phillips, not far from the site of the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel, which was popular with young Montrealers. Engraved on the black granite monument by architect Jean-Maxime Labrecque, are the names of the 37 victims who perished in one of the most tragic fires in the history of 20th-century Montréal. Earlier today, the event was commemorated at an annual mourning mass for deceased city firefighters at Mary-Queen-of-the-World Cathedral. A procession made up of firefighters and city officials proceeded from the cathedral to square Phillips, where the city dedicated the historical footprint in the presence of members of the families of victims and their loved ones.

This day of commemoration was marked by the unveiling of the exhibition, "In Memory of the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel", and an exhibition featuring 150 years in the history of the city fire department, "150 ans d'histoire au Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal", which are held jointly from September 1 to 8, 2012, in the hall of honour at city hall by the Centre d'histoire de Montréal and the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal. The first exhibition paints a picture of the fire at the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel using three time frames before, during and after the fire. The exhibition, "150 ans d'histoire au Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal", presented by the Service de Sécurité incendie de Montréal, provides a unique overview of the development of firefighting in the city, from the creation of the department in 1863 to the present day.