Laurier Palace Theatre fire
The Laurier Palace Theatre fire, sometimes known as the Saddest fire or the Laurier Palace Theatre crush, occurred in a movie theatre in Montreal, Quebec on Sunday, January 9, 1927. 78 people were killed. The theatre was located at 3215 Saint Catherine Street East, just east of Dézéry St.
The fire – reportedly caused by a discarded cigarette – started in the early afternoon during a performance of the comedy Get 'Em Young. Eight hundred children were in attendance, seated in the balcony.
Survivors remembered the cry of fire and smoke quickly filling the air. Ushers, not realizing the danger, at first blocked the east balcony exit and urged the children to return to their seats. The exit doors opened inwards, meaning that the crush of those trying escape prevented them from being opened. The projectionist, Emile Massicotte, got thirty children away from the locked exit into the projection booth, then passed them out a window onto the marquee above the sidewalk, whence they descended fireman's ladders. One usher, Paul Champagne, helped direct evacuation at the other stairway that was not blocked; he and Massicotte were credited with preventing many more deaths, possibly well over 100.
A fire station was across the street and firemen arrived quickly. but 12 children were crushed, 64 asphyxiated, and 2 children killed by the fire itself. Among the dead were the son of one firefighter and three children of a policeman who had been called to assist.
On January 11, funeral services were held in l'Église de la Nativité (the Church of the Nativity), near the theatre, for 39 of the victims. More than 50,000 watched the funeral procession. During the homily, Father Georges Gauthier, co-archbishop of Montréal, wondered whether entertainment should be allowed on Sundays and suggested that children be barred from cinemas.
There are a large number of songs based around the fire with the singer Hercule Lavoie singing about the fire with the words:
«Il fallait des anges au paradis
Des chérubins aux blondes têtes
Et c’est pourquoi Dieu vous a pris
Votre bambin, votre fillette,
Consolez-vous, séchez vos pleurs
Ils sont heureux dans un monde meilleur
Il fallait des anges au paradis
C’est votre enfant que le Ciel a choisi.»
Which, in English, translates to:
There was a need for angels in Heaven
Of blonde-haired cherubs
And that is why God has taken you
Your little boy, your little girl,
Take comfort, dry your eyes
They are happy in a better world
There was a need for angels in Heaven
It was your child that God chose.
The people seized upon the tragedy of the Laurier Palace Theatre as an opportunity to block children's access to the cinema in general, claiming that the cinema "ruins the health of children, weakens their lungs, troubles their imagination, excites their nervous system, harms their education, overexcites their sinful ideas and leads to immorality".
A few months later Judge Louis Boyer recommended that everyone under 16 be forbidden access to cinema screenings. The following year, to appease extremists who wanted the cinema closed to all, such a law was passed and remained in effect for 33 years, until 1961. Building codes were also modified so that the doors of public buildings were required to open outwards.
In 1967, the cinema law was further modified, setting up a motion picture rating system that divided the movie-going population into age groups of 18 and over, 14 and over, and general (for all).
There was never a released official cause for the fire, with Lawand and his employees claiming the children in the theater were always lighting matches to see under the seats. Others believed that there was faulty wiring to blame for the fire.
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