Laurier Palace Theatre fire
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The Laurier Palace Theatre fire, sometimes known as the Saddest fire or the Laurier Palace Theatre crush, was a fire that occurred in a movie theatre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on Sunday, January 9, 1927. 78 people died in the ensuing mayhem. The theatre was located at 3215 Saint Catherine Street East, just east of Dézéry St.
The fire — reportedly caused by a discarded cigarette smouldering beneath wooden floorboards — started in early afternoon during a comedy called Get 'Em Young. 800 children came to watch, and panic erupted when smoke began to billow into the theater.
The children — who were seated in the balcony — had trouble exiting the building, as one of two stairways that led to safety was locked. Further, the doors opened inwards, meaning that the crush of children trying to escape had the effect of closing the doors more tightly, rather than opening them.
Smoke filled the air, choking and blinding the children within two minutes. Firefighters arrived rapidly from fire station number 13 just across the street, but not fast enough to prevent the deaths of 78 children. Of the dead 12 were crushed, 64 asphyxiated; only 2 children actually died from the fire itself. The first to enter the building, Alphéa Arpin, discovered his own son, Gaston, aged 6, in the pile of cadavers. Another man, Adélard Boisseau, discovered one of his 3 children. He would identify the bodies of his two other children later that evening at the morgue.
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, asked "why, on the Lord's day, are places of pleasure such as the one that just burned down allowed to remain open?" ("pourquoi on laisse ouverts en ce jour (celui du Seigneur) des lieux de plaisir comme celui-ci qui vient d'être incendié?"). He stated concern about the moral safety ("sécurité morale") of children. He asked whether it was too rash to ask if, in this province, one could find souls great enough and impartial enough to write laws barring children from the cinema.
The Roman Catholic Church 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" ("ruine la santé des enfants, affaiblit leurs poumons, affole leur imagination, excite leur système nerveux, nuit à leurs études, surexcite les désirs mauvais et conduit à l'immoralité").
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).
- "Seventy-Six Children Killed in Panic on Stairway at Fire in East St. Catherine Street Movie Theatre Sunday Afternoon", Montreal Gazette, January 10, 1927, p1
- Schmidt, René. Canadian Disasters.
- The Evening Independent (St. Petersburgh, Florida). January 10, 1927. pp. 1, 7. Missing or empty