Thursday, March 2, 2017

Singing in the Rain, a Fatal Fire, and my Grandfather

1927 St. Jean Baptiste parade from my grandparents home at 72 Sherbrooke West.


In January, 1927, my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, the Director of City Services, was the last person to testify at the Police homicide inquiry into the Laurier Palace Fire.   A few months later, he was the first person to testify at the Royal Commission into the Laurier Palace Fire  that resulted in a decades long ban on children attending the movies in Quebec.

I'm reading the police inquiry now.  It is mostly in French.

The first person to testify at the police inquiry was a parent who lost his child in the fire. It appears he didn't know his son was at the Sunday matinee. He forbade his son to go to the movies because it was Sunday. He thought his son was out job-hunting. That's what he said.

(Almost all the bereaved parents who testified, at either time, denied any knowledge of their kids attending the cinema.)

I guess these parents felt they would be accused of bad parenting if they admitted they knew their kids were at the cinema, or of something worse, like negligence.

The fact is, children (mostly boys) all over the Western World went to the cinemas, even if, offically, they were supposed to be in the company of an adult.

 Hey, I just saw Singing in the Rain again and it shows Gene Kelly's and Donald O'Connor's characters as kids, sneaking into the motion picture show. It's a cliché.

(Singing in the Rain takes place in 1927, as it happens.It's about the new 'talkies'. I suspect the whole business behind banning kids from movie houses in Quebec because of the Laurier Palace Fire had more to do with the talkies than about safety.)

In Montreal, in 1927, cars were starting to take over the streets and accidents were widely reported in the press. The cinema probably seemed like the safest place for the boys to be. Off the streets.

Next to testify at this homicide inquiry was the architect of the Laurier Place. He presented the plans for the theatre as exhibits. The place is described in detail in the testimony.

It's sad. So many children died that afternoon, but I'm reading this testimony looking for anything that might reflect on my grandfather's involvement.

I've written all about that here on this blog. In fact, the last few posts cover the topic. I'll be writing more when I've pored over this document.

Today, I read my grandfather's testimony, at the end, first.  I already knew what he said. It had been written up in the Gazette.

My grandmother, aunts, cousin and mother at 72 Sherbrooke West in 1929 or so.

I was confused when the court said his address was 28 Sherbrooke West. What? He lived at 72. I went on Google Maps and it looked to me that 28 Sherbrooke West was now a hotel. But then I checked with Lovell's Directory and although it did say my grandfather lived at 28 Sherbrooke West, that the address was between Clarke and St. Urbain and beside the Liberal's Reform Club.

It was the same house!  They just changed the street numbers in 1928 or so.

So, my mom grew up across the street from the Notman mansion, now a museum. Maybe I'll take a stroll down there and visit.

A few years ago, I visited an ad agency for freelance work that was at 72 Sherbrooke West. I told the owner that my grandparents lived there once. I think he thought I was nuts. I didn't get the job.

Now, the place is a law office. It's been recently sold and renovated, but the doors are the same as back in the 20's.



A gargoyle on the house at 72 Sherbrooke West.  Gee, if mythical creatures could talk.