50 years: Remembering Montreal Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel fire, 37 died

“I said to my husband, ‘Gosh, it smells like gas.’ He turned around opening the door and saw a shadow pouring liquid,” said Heather Condon–Lowengren, who survived the Montreal Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel fire that killed 37 people in 1972.

By News Staff

Montreal commemorated the 50th anniversary of what is considered one of the worst fires in Canadian history, with a tribute at Phillips Square on Thursday.

On September 1, 1972, a fire at the Blue Bird – Wagon Wheel, killed 37 people and injured dozens more. It was a popular club on Union street and was packed for Labour Day weekend.

That night three men were kicked out of the club and came back to pour gasoline on the stairs before throwing a match.

It was a favourite hangout spot for many – including Heather CondonLowengren she was there 50 years ago celebrating her 21st birthday and being a newlywed with her husband of three months.

“We went upstairs, my husband and I, we were talking with Guy, rest his soul, the bar doorman. And I said to my husband, ‘Gosh, it smells like gas.’ He turned around opening the door and saw a shadow pouring liquid on each side of the stairway. He wanted to jump down to try and stop the man, but it was too late,” explained Heather.

The blaze spread quickly, blocking the main exit of the building – the emergency exit was locked – and people were trapped.

“It wasn’t until the next few days that we found out that 37 people had lost their life.”

(CREDIT: Ville de Montreal)

“The Blue Bird fire has left a lasting impression on all Montrealers,” said Mayor Valérie Plante at the tribute Thursday. “This tragedy brought about profound reflection within the City of Montreal and its fire department. That day, about 50 firefighters responded to the call that evening to battle the fire and rescue survivors. Many were scarred by the tragedy and deeply affected by the young age of the victims.”

(CREDIT: Matt Tornabene/CITYNEWS)

(CREDIT: Matt Tornabene/CITYNEWS)

The three men were charged and sentenced to life in prison – Gilles Eccles, Jean-Marc Boutin and James O’Brien – but were eventually paroled.

A memorial with the names of the women and men who died 50 years ago can be seen at Phillips Square in downtown Montreal.

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