Montreal will commemorate 50th anniversary of Blue Fowl tragedy Thursday

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The city of Montreal will hold a ceremony Thursday to commemorate the 37 victims who died in the tragic fire at the Blue Bird Café and the Wagon Wheel Bar, which occurred 50 years ago.

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In a release issued Wednesday afternoon, the city said the commemoration will take place at 11 a.m. at Phillips Square, where there is a memorial with the names of the victims, and will be attended by Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

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Several relatives of those who perished are expected to attend, along with the honour guard of the Montreal fire department and the Montreal police.

The city of Montreal officially began commemorating the anniversary a decade ago.

On the night of Sept. 1, 1972, three men, drunk from their Labour Day weekend celebrations, decided to set fire to a building on Union Ave. near Cathcart St. The building housed the Blue Bird Café on the ground floor and the Wagon Wheel Bar upstairs, and the men had been denied entry into the latter.

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More than 200 people were believed to have been in the building at the time. Besides those who perished, more than 50 people were injured.

Two of the men who took part in the fire received life sentences after having pleaded guilty to manslaughter and murder. They were granted parole by 1989.

James O’Brien, one of the men who actually started the fire by dousing a stairway with gasoline, was granted full parole on Feb. 25, 1983. But he violated his parole several times since then and was returned to federal penitentiaries off and on. In November 2020, the parole board lifted a condition that allowed O’Brien to leave a halfway house because he was in frail health.

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  1. Fire ravaged the interior of Montreal's Blue Bird Café on Sep. 1, 1972. The blaze was deliberately set and killed 37 people at the café, located on Union Ave.

    Blue Bird Café arsonist released from halfway house

  2. Marlie Wirtanen (right) and Linda Nagy embrace in Philips square in Montreal Friday, August 31, 2012 where a memorial was unveiled for 37 victims who died in a fire at the Blue Bird cafe 40 years ago. Linda was a survivor of the fire and Marlie's sister Kathy died in the fire Sept. 1,1972.

    Opinion: Blue Bird fire victims deserve to be remembered

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