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Firefighters stamp out Montreal heritage building blaze 42 hours after it ignited

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

MONTREAL — A fire that swept through a heritage building in downtown Montreal was brought under control Saturday about 42 hours after it first began, the city's fire department said.

The blaze broke out late Thursday afternoon at the Monastère du Bon Pasteur, a 19th century former monastery, and quickly became a five-alarm fire requiring the intervention of 150 firefighters.

It proved difficult to tame because of the construction and materials used in the building. Authorities believe the fire began in the attic but had difficulty reaching the source.

Émilie Barbeau-Charlebois, section chief at the Montreal fire department, said Saturday both the cause of the fire and an estimate of damages remained unknown.

"It was about 42 hours total of intervention by firefighters who worked non-stop," Barbeau-Charlebois said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is set to begin on Monday.

As of Saturday, 59 people were being taken care of by the Red Cross, Barbeau-Charlebois said. No one was injured in the blaze.

About 20 firefighters were still on site Saturday to ensure a new fire doesn't start in the debris, and authorities inspected the building before allowing residents to enter.

Accompanied by police or firefighters, they were led inside in small groups to briefly collect their personal belongings like medication or important documents.

The monastery was built in 1846 to house the Soeurs de Notre-Dame du Bon Pasteur d'Angers and maintained its religious vocation until the 1960s. Quebec officially recognized It as a heritage site in 1979 and it served as a mixed use building that includes a residence for seniors, a housing cooperative, a daycare centre and condominiums. 

The chapel, located in the centre of the complex, is now a concert hall and the city calls it one of its most prestigious venues, known for exceptional acoustics in a historic and intimate atmosphere.

"It's incredibly sad. This place is a magnificent place, we're talking about a chapel, we're talking about a heritage building which had been restored," Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters Friday.

The venue housed a pair of unique instruments: a Fazioli concert grand piano and a 1772 Kirckman harpsichord, which were extracted or expected to be removed from the building on Saturday.

The condition of the instruments was not immediately known.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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