Montreal

Here's what we know about the victims in the Old Montreal fire

Their backgrounds vary: two friends who grew up together in Pakistan, an 18-year-old spending an evening with friends, a renowned photographer, gifted academics.

Montreal police say the search for victims is now over

Flowers on a fence with a burned building behind.
Flowers lie near the building situated at 224 place D’Youville that was ravaged by fire early on March 16, killing seven people. All the victims have now been identified. (Radio-Canada)

All seven victims of a fire in an Old Montreal building have now been identified. 

Their backgrounds vary: two friends who grew up together in Pakistan, an 18-year-old spending an evening with friends, a renowned photographer.

Many were staying at rented rooms in the building; one of them had lived there for more than 30 years. 

All spent their final moments inside the building off of Place D'Youville, where, in the early morning hours of March 16, a fire broke out under circumstances that Montreal police are still investigating. 

Friends and family members came to the area in the days and weeks after the blaze, some of them leaving flowers near the charred stone facade as firefighters carefully searched through the debris for victims.

That search is now over, Montreal police said last week, after they pulled the last two bodies from the structure.

Here is what we know about the victims: 

Dania Zafar

Woman in colourful dress
Dania Zafar, 32, from Toronto was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time,' her family said. (Submitted by Zafar Mahmood)

Dania Zafar, a Pakistani national living in Toronto, was staying on the third floor of the building the night it caught fire. 

Zafar had planned to stay in an Airbnb rental unit in the building in Old Montreal for one night, according to her father, Zafar Mahmood. She called her family in Pakistan by video call the evening before the blaze and gave them a tour of her Airbnb unit, which she said she picked because she admired its character.

"I think she was at the wrong place at the wrong time with all the odds against her and we lost her," Mahmood said through tears. 

His daughter was a dreamer, he said. She was a free spirit who had moved abroad to study fine arts and managed her own online business. "She wanted to do things in her own way," Mahmood said.

Zafar was also friendly and kind. She kept a collection of houseplants at her apartment in Toronto, she loved cats and she left an impression on everyone she met.

Saniya Khan

Older man next to younger woman
Mazhar Khan, with his daughter, Saniya Mazhar Khan, 31. She was visiting Montreal with her childhood friend. (Submitted by Mazhar Khan)

Saniya Khan, a 32-year-old doctor from Pakistan who was studying medicine in Detroit, was best friends with Dania Zafar. They had met as children in Pakistan and were inseparable, Saniya's father, Mazhar Khan, said in an interview. 

They shared a love of travel and writing and were working on a novel together, he said. 

Saniya Khan was working toward a master's in public health, but she made time to speak to her father, calling him practically every day, he said. 

Mazhar Khan described his daughter as a selfless person who always thought of others. She cared for her family whenever they needed her. She knew what people around her needed sometimes before they knew, he said. 

"I feel like part of my body, part of my heart is gone," he said.

Walid Belkahla

A young man looks into the camera.
Montreal police and fire officials identified Walid Belkahla, 18, on Tuesday March 28 as one of the victims of a fire in an Old Montreal heritage building. (Les Algériens de Montréal/Facebook)

Walid Belkahla, an 18-year-old student, was spending an evening with friends downtown the night of the fire. The night ran late and a friend invited Belkahla to stay at a rented room, which he did, according to his father, Raba Belkahla.

Raba said he was proud of his son, whom he described as a good student who applied himself and did volunteer work in the community. 

Charlie Lacroix

Girl with colourful hair smiling.
Charlie Lacroix, 18, was staying at an Airbnb the night of the fire. (gofundme.com)

Charlie Lacroix, 18, was a happy girl who lit up a room, according to her friends and family who came to the site of the fire last week to "say goodbye."

"She was a little ball of joy and she always knew what to say," said Kelly Ann, who said Lacroix was her best friend. "She was always there for everyone. She was a good person and she was so young. She had her whole life ahead of her."

Lacroix was staying at an Airbnb the night of the fire. Robert Lacas, her grandfather, said she made urgent 911 calls, saying there were no windows in her unit — and no way to escape the flames — before the call cut out. 

"She was a happy little girl. That's all I can say. She was joyful," he said, his voice breaking. "She was really really nice."

An Wu

Woman sitting
An Wu was in Montreal for conference on computational neuroscience. She was staying in an Airbnb in the Old Montreal building. (Submitted by Pantong Yao)

An Wu's friends and family remember her as a devoted scientist and a gifted scholar.

Wu, 31, was in Montreal to participate in an academic conference about computational neuroscience and was staying at an Airbnb in the building. 

Born in China, she was recognized as a gifted child and obtained her bachelor's degree at the age of 19, according to a friend, Pantong Yao.

She was doing post-doctoral research at the University of California San Diego and would spend hours in the lab trying to find the answer to a question.

"An was a really diligent person and really devoted herself to science," Yao said, conveying a message from one of Wu's family members. 

Nathan Sears 

Portrait of young man with blond hair and glasses looking into camera
Nathan Sears was in Montreal for a conference on international studies and was staying in an Airbnb in Old Montreal when it caught fire, trapping people inside. (Nathan Sears/Facebook)

Nathan Sears, an academic from Toronto who holds a PhD in political science, was in town for the International Studies Association conference held at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel.

Sears was listed as having taken part in the International Studies Association conference held in Montreal the week of the fire. "We are all devastated," University of Toronto professor Steven Bernstein, who was Sears's PhD thesis supervisor, wrote in an email.

Camille Maheux

Older woman holding camera
Montreal police identified Camille Maheux as one of the victims of a fire that destroyed a building in the historic neighbourhood of Old Montreal. (Self-portrait by Camille Maheux/Submitted by Petunia Alves)

Camille Maheux, a documentary photographer whose work captured the women's movement and the lives of LGBTQ people beginning in the early 1970s, had lived in the building for 30 years. 

Buster Fraum, a former neighbour of hers, said Maheux was a colourful and warm character who would regale him with stories of her worldly life and career. 

"Camille was really, really eccentric in the most delightful of ways," he said. 

Maheux's work was exhibited across Canada, Europe and in Brazil, where she was based on and off in the 1980s, a friend said. Maheux even hosted a program on Brazilian music on CIBL, a francophone community radio station in Montreal.

The National Gallery of Canada's website lists 61 of Maheux's photographs in its collection, with names like Scènes de la rue, Montréal, Québec and Femme au bras tatoué

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that An Wu had begun attending college at age 19. In fact, she graduated from college at the age of 19.
    Mar 31, 2023 5:01 PM ET

With files from Matthew Lapierre, Verity Stevenson and Sabrina Jonas

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