Montreal, QB Orphanage Fire, Feb 1918


Thirty-Eight Charred Bodies Found by Firemen at Early Hour Last Night -- Many Left to Die When Flames and Smoke Drove Rescuers from Building --Fire Confined to Top Floor of Left Wing of Building --Lower Part Of Structure Occupied by Sick and Wounded Returned Soldiers.

Montreal, Feb. 14. -- The lives of at least 38 little children were blotted out tonight shortly after 8 o'clock by fire in the fifth or top story of the west wing of the Grey Nunnery, on Guy and Dorchester streets, and it is feared that the loss may run well up in a hundred.
Thirty-eight, charred bodies were found by the firemen at 10:30 when the fire was under control, and it is known that while firemen and soldiers were engaged in rescuing infants they were forced to leave many to die as the flames and smoke drove the rescuers from the building.
The property loss is not excessive, as the blaze was practically kept to the one floor. The fire started near the tower, supposedly from the electric wiring. The top floor was used as a dormitory for the infants being cared for by the nuns, and the lower part of the west wing was occupied by returned soldiers, sick and wounded.
All the other inmates in the big building are believed to have escaped. Those included the nuns, nursing sisters, returned, wounded, or sick soldiers, aged, sick and crippled men and women to the number of almost a thousand. They are scattered in various directions, so that it may be some time before there can be a roll call.
A number of the soldiers were removed to hospitals, practically all the ambulances having been called into service in connection with the fire. None of the soldiers suffered injury through the fire or the consequent confusion, and within half an hour after the outbreak all of them had been removed to places of safety and comfort. There were about 200 of them. Sixty of them were taken to the Khaki club and the others were distributed amongst the military hospital on Drummond street, the Royal Victoria, Western and Montreal General hospitals.

Heroic Work Of Soldiers.
Heroic work on the part of the soldiers whose homes were temporarily in the west wing of the nunnery doubtless prevented the loss of life being much larger. So rapidly did the flames envelop the upper floor of the west wing, where the children were in their cots for the night, that the firemen and soldiers were completely driven out. THey had time merely to grab as many of the little tots as they could and make a dash for the outside. It was impossible for them to return, but the soldiers were kept out only on the express orders of the fire chief.
One returned sergeant made five trips to the top story and with the flames, threateningly close, and in the midst of dense smoke he gathered two babies in his arms each time and safely returned.

Heroic Actions Of Sisters.
District Fire Chief MARIN, who was one of the first of the firemen on the scene, and who himself carried out four babies at one time, said as many children were saved as possible. He said the firemen had difficulty in preventing the sisters from dashing into the flames in their frantic efforts to save the tiny creatures when to enter that section of the nunnery would have meant certain death. Two or three of the nuns fell unconscious from their efforts at rescue in the smoke-filled dormitory behind a curtain of flames and were carried out be firemen.
Naturally, there was much excitement in the other sections of the building, which faces three streets, Guy, Gloucester and St. Matthew, especially where the aged and infirm inmates were, but there was little confusion. Many old people who had been bedridden for years had to be carried out in cots, wheel-chairs, and even in blankets, and were housed in nearby residences. The hospital ambulances were assisted by police ambulances and private motor cars. It is feared that sopme of those people may die as a result of the shock. Some of the worst cases were removed to hospitals.

Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba 1918-02-15



Montreal, February 15. -- The number of infants known to have perished in the fire in the top story of the west wing of the Grey Nunnery here last night still stood at 53 at late hour tonight. However, it was admitted by Rev. Mother McKENNA, as a possibility, that a few babies had been entirely cremated in the fire, though this could not be established definitely until there was a roll call of the nunnery children. This could not be accomplished today, as it was belileved some of the sympathetic people who last night bore away to their homes babies rescued from the flames and smoke had not yet reported to the nuns.
All day long today ambulances of the hospitals of the city and motor cars of citizens and sleighs of various institutions and individuals were drawing up before the Grey Nunnery, at the Guy street entrance, with babies who had been snatched from death last night, and aged and infirm people who had been removed from the nunnery during the excitement of the fire. The reception rooms and halls of the big Catholic institution were filled with nuns, soldiers and relatives of those who have been making their homes at the nunnery.

Soldiers Accounted For.
Every returned soldier who has been in the military hospital in the Grey Nunnery, under the creche where the fire occurred, was accounted for today, according to Major HALL, officer commanding A unit military hospitals, and none of the sick or wounded who were compelled to leave their quarters last night suffered injury thereby, so far as is known.
In connection with the taking of temporary or perpetual vows by 32 novices in the nunnery this morning, Archbishop BRUCHESL, who presided, reminded the sisters that when the first hospital built by the founder of the inistitution, Rev. Mother YOUVILLE, was destroyed by fire, that brave women chanted a Te Deum.
His Grace asked the Sisterhood of the Grey Nuns to follow the founder's example, which they did, and chanted the Te Deum.

Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba 1918-02-16