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Seven lives lost: The victims of the Old Montreal fire

Among the seven victims of a deadly fire in Old Montreal on March 16, 2023, are a neuroscientist, a renowned photographer and two teenagers from the Greater Montreal Area. (CTV News) Among the seven victims of a deadly fire in Old Montreal on March 16, 2023, are a neuroscientist, a renowned photographer and two teenagers from the Greater Montreal Area. (CTV News)
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It's been two weeks since a major fire ripped through a heritage building in the heart of Old Montreal, killing seven people and forever altering the lives of families across the globe.

In the days following the tragedy, the victims' families had been agonizing as they desperately waited for news about their missing loved ones.

The last two of the seven victims were officially identified Tuesday. Among the deceased are a renowned photographer, a neuroscientist from the U.S. and two teenagers from the Greater Montreal Area.

The March 16 fire has raised several unanswered questions about fire safety in the Place d'Youville building that housed illegal short-term rentals.

A father of one of the victims said his 18-year-old daughter was trapped in a unit that had no windows to escape from, while another survivor of the fire has said she didn't hear the fire alarm go off in her semi-basement unit.

Now that the bodies have been recovered, Montreal police, which are leading the probe into the fatal fire, are turning their focus to finding the cause of the blaze and the circumstances that led up to it.

For the families of those who died, the grieving process is only starting.

Here are the victims and their stories.

An Wu, 31

An Wu worked on post-doctoral studies at the University of California San Diego and had been in Montreal to attend a conference. Her friend, Shijia Liu, described Wu as a smart and promising neuroscientist who "was very well known in the field," adding that the tragedy sent shockwaves throughout the community.

A colleague said Leonard Cohen was her favourite singer and poet, and described her as "creative, fearless, and forward-thinking, with a constant desire to learn." Wu's aunt, Suzhen Wu, said her parents were hoping to come to Montreal from China to deal with the tragedy.

Saniya Khan, 31

Saniya Kahn, 32, has been missing since a fire ripped through a 19th-century building in Old Montreal on Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Submitted photo)

Saniya Khan was on a "spontaneous" one-day trip to Montreal with her childhood friend, Dania Zafar, at the time of the fire, her father told CTV News. Mazhar Khan said his daughter, the eldest of her three siblings, was pursuing her master's degree in public health from Wayne State University in Detroit.

"She was so accomplished. She was a doctor. She would volunteer her time at youth centres. She was a suicide hotline operator," Saniya's friend, Jonathan Clark, told The Canadian Press, adding that she and Zafar were "very young, very bright, beautiful, living life."

Dania Zafar, 31

Dania Zafar, shown in a handout photo, is one of the people confirmed missing in the fire that swept through an Old Montreal building on March 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Zafar Mahmood

Dania Zafar met Saniya Khan when they went to school together in Pakistan, and their friendship continued after Zafar moved to Toronto. Zafar, who was in the process of getting her Canadian citizenship, worked at Ignite Publishing in Toronto. The company's CEO, JB Owen, said she was "so brilliant and intelligent and an incredible designer, and had such an eye for detail."

"She had a fantastic attitude. She was just always up for a challenge. She was always just, 'Yes, let's do it,'" Owen told CTV News.

The company said it is working with the non-profit organization Classroom of Hope to build The Dania Zafar School of Hope in Pakistan to honour her.

Her father, Zafar Mahmood, said his daughter "wanted to achieve so many things which will not be fulfilled now."

Camille Maheux, 76

A photo of Camille Maheux, 76, at a memorial at the Place d'Youville building in Old Montreal. Police said Wednesday she is the first victim to be identified from the deadly fire. (CTV News)

Camille Maheux was the first fire victim to be identified by police. She lived in the building for more than 30 years and was a renowned photographer, whose work has been featured in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Canada.

Suzanne Girard met Maheux in 1975 when the pair shared their love of snapping photos. "She was a very good photographer," said Girard. "She was a very good camerawoman. She had the eye."

Her death sent shockwaves through the arts community, prompting her friends to try to build back her vast collection of photos throughout the years.

"It's all these good memories right now because I have something of hers, you know. I sort of put it in the back of my mind, the circumstance," Girard said.

Walid Belkahla, 18

Walid Belkahla, 18, died in the Old Montreal fire that claimed seven lives on March 16. (Supplied Photo)

Walid Belkahla was among the youngest victims of the March 16 fire and one of the last two victims to be identified. Dozens of people gathered Wednesday to pay their respects at a funeral at a Laval mosque, where his father, Raba Belkahla, spoke about the "torture" he went through waiting for answers about his son.

Walid was very involved with helping his father at work, volunteering and spending time with friends.

"I lost a brother," said Walid's friend, Karim Salloum. "We did everything together."

"At first, I didn't believe it," said another friend, Diamond Gonzalez. "I thought he escaped… but today is giving me closure."

Nathan Sears, 35

Nathan Sears, 35, died in the Old Montreal fire on March 16, 2023. His thesis supervisor, Steven Bernstein, remembered him as 'a wonderful human being.' (Source: Facebook)

Nathan Sears was also visiting Montreal to attend a conference, the International Studies Association Annual Conference. Sears was a Cadieux-Léger Fellow at Global Affairs Canada and last October, he defended his PhD thesis in international relations at the University of Toronto.

His thesis supervisor, Steven Bernstein, described him as a "fearless" student whose "passion was research and academia where he thought he could make the most difference."

"He was also a wonderful human being. His passion was matched by his kindness. I’ve heard from several people in the last few days how he helped and supported them through the challenges of PhD studies," Bernstein wrote in an email to CTV News.

"It’s just such a huge loss. A terrible example of such enormous potential to make a difference being snuffed out senselessly."

Charlie Lacroix, 18

Charlie Lacroix, 18, died after the major fire in Old Montreal. SOURCE: Louis-Philippe Lacroix.

Charlie Lacroix was from the Montreal suburb of Terrebonne and had rented an Airbnb unit in the building with a friend, according to her father, Louis-Philippe Lacroix. He said she called 911 twice within several minutes to say she was unable to get out of the unit, which had no window and no fire escape.

"Hearing this news and having to break it to my boy and people is seriously the worst thing to go through as a parent," her father said.

He said his daughter was someone who "had everything in front of her."

With files from CTV News Montreal's Matt Gilmour, Daniel J. Rowe, Keila DePape, Amanda Kline and The Canadian Press 

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