Knights of Columbus Hostel fire
The Knights of Columbus Hostel fire was a structure fire that occurred during World War II on Saturday, December 12, 1942, in St. John's, Newfoundland in a hostel operated by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization.
99 civilians and military personnel perished. Newfoundlanders and U.S. servicemen alike lost their lives.
The fire was likely an incidence of enemy sabotage orchestrated by agents of Nazi Germany. It was one of a number of suspicious fires in St. John's that winter. If this is true, these fires would be among the few successful (even if minor) Axis attacks on North America.
A large military presence had developed in St. John’s since the outset of World War II. In addition to local forces, personnel from several foreign countries passed through St. John's, an important staging point for trans-Atlantic convoys.
The United States was busy building a series of bases in Newfoundland. The large American Army base, Fort Pepperrell, was built on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake, on land leased for 99 years from the Newfoundland government. This brought thousands of American servicemen to be stationed in St. John’s.
Warships filled the harbour, and navy men and merchant seamen swelled the population of the capital city. When all these soldiers and sailors went off-duty, filling their free time became important, and one such place the servicemen turned to for recreation was the Knights of Columbus Hostel on Harvey Road.
The hostel was described (in the post-fire enquiry by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) as a “sleeping, eating and recreation centre for servicemen.” It included a reading room, a restaurant, toilets, showers, a dormitory where men could stay, a recreation room, and a large auditorium equipped with both a stage for live performances and a projection booth for showing films.
The building was horseshoe-shaped and faced south toward Harvey Road. It was covered entirely by a gabled roof. Its main section was about 115 feet (35 m) long and 38 feet (12 m) wide, standing two storeys high; At each end, a wing extended north from the rear of the main section, with a courtyard behind the main section in the space between the wings. The east wing, also two storeys high and the same width as the main section, extended approximately 88 feet (27 m). The west wing was of the same dimensions, but only one storey in height.