Blue Bird Cafe Fire 50th Anniversary


Welcome to September. Fifty years ago on September 1, 1972, a Friday, Montrealers, in fact, Canadians across the country, were eagerly anticipating the much ballyhooed Summit Series between a team of Canada’s best NHL hockey players and what we erroneously thought would be a ragtag group from the Soviet Union.

Canadians across the country, were eagerly anticipating the much ballyhooed Summit Series between a team of Canada’s best NHL hockey players and what we erroneously thought would be a ragtag group from the Soviet Union

On that Friday night, a very warm late summer evening, many gathered to kick off the Labour Day weekend at Montreal’s Wagon Wheel Club, located above the Blue Bird Cafe on Union Street. As usual on a Friday night, a band was playing country tunes while patrons eased into the long weekend with a few cold beverages. I imagine the upcoming hockey series was a popular topic of discussion among the predominantly English-speaking clientele. The Blue Bird and Wagon Wheel had a reputation for not being too picky when it came to checking IDs, so many of those present were underage. What more could a barroom full of young kids ask for?

A photo from the horrific night shows emergency staff removing a victim on a stretcher. (Photo credit: “Le Memorial de Quebec Edition 1966-76” published in 1979 by the National Library of Quebec)

Sadly, indeed tragically, the lovely evening took a sinister turn when two young men who had been refused entry earlier in the evening returned armed with canisters of gasoline and lighters.

On Saturday morning, September 2, 1972, Montrealers awoke eager to read about that night’s big hockey game only to be shocked at the news that 37 young people had lost their lives in the fire at the Blue Bird Cafe. As I think back it is hard to believe that these two events happened on the same weekend.

Sadly, indeed tragically, the lovely evening took a sinister turn when two young men who had been refused entry earlier in the evening returned armed with canisters of gasoline and lighters.

For many years the site of the Blue Bird was a parking lot. Like many Montreal parking lots, it has now been developed. Up the street a memorial was installed a few years ago; too little too late.

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