Monday, February 4, 2013

Suspicious Suspicious: Laurier Palace Fire

Yesterday I tried to track down info on the 1927 Royal Commission into the fatal Laurier Palace Movie Theatre Fire. I think I am going to have to go to Quebec City to read the entire report.

Still, I found a pamphlet at banq sent out in 1927 by an umbrella group of French Catholic organizations commenting in a very negative way on presiding Juge Boyer's conclusions.

Boyer white-washes the cinema, they said.

They were outraged that Juge Boyer found no one responsible for the deaths of the children and also outraged that he didn't see it important to criticize Sunday Showings.

However, they were pleased that Juge Boyer recommended that children under 16 not be allowed into cinemas even when accompanied by an adult.

Imagine what would have happened had the Laurier Palace Fire not happened and had children in Quebec from 1927 been exposed to the new talking films?  I imagine they wouldn't have been able to start up a dubbing industry right away.

I know that the Talkies were new and that some people assumed they wouldn't catch on.

But in that era they were building these huge movie palaces like the Granada (Cinema V)in Montreal and elsewhere. Clearly they knew the movies were here to stay.

Read my play Milk and Water about 1927 Quebec. My grandfather Jules Crepeau was implicated in the Laurier Palace Fire. He was Director of City Services and was one of the first to give testimony at the inquiry.

The pamphlet I read claims the Laurier Palace was open without a license, but my grandfather was the one who explained that, yes, the company had not paid the amusement tax on time, but by the time of the fire the tax had been paid but the only problem was the paperwork had not gone through. Something to that effect. So the Laurier Palace was allowed to open anyway. The City Executive had the power to override the Chief of Police in such matters, he said.

My grandfather should have known, his brother was Vice President of United Amusements, a big theatre chain in Montreal.

But here's the thing: my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was involved in another scandal, two years earlier, the Coderre Commission on Police Corruption.  This inquiry focused on vice (prostitution) but my grandfather was fingered for allowing movie houses to admit under age patrons without supervision. The cop who fingered him was then immediately fired by my grandfather for something unrelated, bribery, but not before warning Coderre "One day there is going to be a catastrophe."There will be a fire and children won't be able to get out.

And guess what? There was a catastrophe, a fatal fire in January 1927. A little fire, maybe just smoke,  but 70 children died in the ensuing panic, as Boyer's Report stated. A fire in the floor of the gallery of a theatre directly across from a fire station. A fire during a Sunday Showing, so a time when it was packed with kids.

And, oddly,  the info about my grandfather, widely published in the press just two years before, even re-published in the New York Times in 1926, never came out at the Boyer Inquiry.

As far as I can see. That's why I want to read the entire report.