Sombre anniversary in LaSalle: 50 years since gas explosion
It was a scene of total devastation.
Fifty years ago Sunday, a gas leak triggered explosions under several apartment buildings in LaSalle, an event that is still one of the worst gas-leak-related explosions to ever occur in the Montreal area.
The first explosion rocked the LaSalle Heights housing project at Jean Milot and Bergevin Sts. just after 8 a.m. on March 1st, 1965 – late enough that while some adults were gone to work for the day, but early enough that children hadn’t yet left for school.
The blasts killed 28 people, 18 of them children, and injured 32.
Two six-unit apartment buildings were levelled in an instant, while another two burned to the ground. About 200 people were left homeless.
Left in the buildings’ wake was a 20-foot crater that is now a parking lot.
Borough Mayor Manon Barbe is a life-long resident of Lasalle. Even though she was only seven years old at the time, the day is forever etched in her memory.
“I remember where I was when it happened,” she said. “We were living about four kilometres from this explosion.”
The doors at the back of her family's home almost blew open from the force of the blast, she said.
Barbe's father was a Lasalle fireman at the time, and she remembers he had a hard time dealing with the tragedy.
“He was really troubled and I guess all the people who worked on that site were troubled because it was so big. I think nobody's prepared to face that type of drama,” she said.
“Fourteen little girls and four little boys, so it's 18 kids out of 28. Those kids were probably all in the same schools around so it was a big hole.”
Rescuers had to dig with their hands; heavy equipment could have endangered survivors.
Food, clothing money and furniture poured in from across Quebec and the country to help the survivors.
While a parking lot now stand in its place, the LaSalle borough plans to put up a plaque commemorating the event at the site this year. Council members observed a moment of silence at the borough council meeting Monday night to honour the victims, and an exhibit on the tragedy will open sometime this year.