Lac-Mégantic inaugurated a memorial Monday morning to remember the 47 people who lost their lives in the railway tragedy that happened seven years ago. The Memory Space is both a place of difficult memories and a testimony to the city’s ability to rebuild itself, said one of its creators.
On July 6, 2013, an oil-carrying train rolled down the slope leading to the small municipality of Estrie and derailed, causing a fatal explosion that also destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic.
It took days to remove the burnt bodies of the victims from the rubble, and even longer to identify them. Several victims perished in a popular bar in the municipality, the Musi-Café.
Many buildings were blown up by the explosion, others burned to the ground. In some places, only the foundations of the buildings were still visible. Some 2,000 citizens had to be evacuated, and several found themselves crammed into a temporary accommodation center installed in the city’s multi-purpose school. Nearby rivers have been contaminated by the oil spill.
It was the deadliest railway accident in the country’s modern history.
The Espace Mémoire, a public square, was created on the former site of the Musi-Café, and conceptualized by the architects Pierre Thibault and Jérôme Lapierre.
Granite terraces have been built there, on which people can sit and on which 48 silhouettes will be engraved: one for each of the 47 victims, and the 48th for “so that each of the citizens and visitors can find their way” .
“Talking rocks” have been installed, that is to say rocks found on the decimated site, and on which words will be engraved. One of them will mark the center of what was the Musi-Café.
The memorial is not finished, but almost: COVID-19 has slowed down certain stages. This is also the reason why the ceremony was sober, since large gatherings were not possible.
A minute of silence was observed, then the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Julie Morin, spoke.
Since July 6, history has taught us that rebuilding our lives, our city, takes time, she said.
“The Memory Space is intended to be an anchor for our communities. “
A place to gather
And it will be an everyday place where people can come together to celebrate life and live their mourning, said architect Jérôme Lapierre.
“The people who come here will be able, through these talking rocks, to find the memory of moments, I would say … difficult, but I think that have also shown the capacity of a community to recover,” continued the other. creator, architect Pierre Thibault.
Then, after the ceremony, the bells of the Sainte-Agnès church rang at noon, in tribute to the victims, as the parish has done for six years.
No train will cross the small town this Monday, as a sign of respect, but on other days citizens still see the cars pass by.
Some have been fighting for years to improve rail safety and to obtain a bypass, which would ensure that trains would run outside Lac-Mégantic, without crossing it.
The Government of Canada and the government of Quebec have confirmed that they will fund the bypass. Its entry into service – as well as the dismantling of the existing track – is scheduled for 2023. However, the route is not unanimous among citizens.
On Saturday, the Quebec government announced that the construction project for the Lac-Mégantic railway bypass is progressing and that the completion schedule will be respected. Work is scheduled to start in 2021.
Messages of condolences
On Monday, the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, offered their condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.
“We also offer our support to all those who are still living with the pain and trauma of this tragic evening. We also salute the courage and dedication of the first responders. Their actions and their support, which were given to so many families during a period when they were in great need, will never be forgotten, “added Mr. Trudeau in a press release.