MONTREAL – A major fire at a Montreal heritage building was still not under control Friday and authorities were not able to provide a firm timeline of how long it would take to extinguish the blaze.
The fire broke out late Thursday afternoon at the Monastere du Bon-Pasteur, a 19th century former monastery, and quickly became a five-alarm blaze requiring the intervention of 150 firefighters.
Fire Chief Richard Liebmann told reporters Friday that the fire seems to have started in the attic, but bringing it under control hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a fire that’s extremely difficult to extinguish,” Liebmann said. “Because of the nature of the construction, the shape of the building and the construction materials, it’s very difficult to reach the source of the fire, (both) from above and from inside.”
Liebmann could not say what the extent of the damage could be or how long operations might continue.
The downtown Montreal building was built in 1846 for the Soeurs de Notre-Dame du Bon Pasteur d’Angers who set up in Montreal. It retained its religious vocation until the 1960s.
It was formally recognized as a heritage site by the province in 1979.
It now serves as a multiservice centre that includes a residence for seniors, a housing cooperative, a daycare centre and condominiums. The building also houses the offices of Heritage Montreal, a non-profit that promotes and protects the city’s heritage.
The chapel, located in the centre of the complex, is now a concert hall that is part of the city’s cultural centre network. According to the City of Montreal, it’s one of the most prestigious halls, known for exceptional acoustics in a historic and intimate atmosphere.
The venue houses a pair of unique instruments: a Fazioli concert grand piano and a 1772 Kirckman harpsichord. It wasn’t clear whether those items had been saved.
Liebmann said 39 people were evacuated and 27 of them are being taken care of by the Red Cross.
Two people were treated for minor injuries, a firefighter who was fighting the blaze and a man in his 80s found overnight in a part of the complex not on fire.
Liebmann could not explain why the octogenarian wasn’t discovered when the building was searched earlier in the evening. Preliminary and secondary searches were done and a building manager had said everyone was accounted for.
“So how someone was still inside will be the subject of an investigation because there’s a lot of contradictory information circulating right now,” Liebmann said.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante says word of the fire brought feelings of “immense sorrow.”
Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe said once the fire is brought under control, the conversation will turn to how to rebuild.
Environment Canada issued a special bulletin for poor air quality due to the smoke created by the fire, which causes high concentrations of fine particles.
Plante called on people to stay away from the area due to the poor air.
Feature image: Firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire at the former Monastere du Bon Pasteur, a 19th century heritage building on Friday May 26, 2023 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi