L'Isle-Verte quietly marks 3 years since deadly fire at seniors' home

Monday marks the three year anniversary of a deadly fire at a seniors’ residence that claimed 32 lives in L’Isle-Verte, Que., but there will be no anniversary mass, no public commemoration ceremony. Instead, residents will be left to remember the lives in their own way.

Cause of the fire that claimed 32 lives in 2014 is still unknown

On Jan. 23, 2014, a fierce fire swept through the Résidence du Havre, killing 32 of its residents. Three years later, residents of the town are slowly moving forward. (

There will be no mass or public ceremony to mark the anniversary of the deadly seniors' residence fire in L'Isle-Verte, Que. three years ago today.

Instead, residents of the small town about 450 kilometres northeast of Montreal will be left to remember the 32 lives lost in their own way. And for some, memories of that night are still very painful.

"Everyone thinks about it, but no one speaks about it much," said Father Gilles Frigon, the priest at St-Jean Baptiste de L'Isle-Verte church.

"Expressions sometimes say a lot, without words. If you look, you can see that there is an open wound."

On Jan. 23, 2014, a fierce fire swept through the Résidence du Havre, killing 32 people who were caught within its walls.

The residence housed just over 50 seniors, including many who used walkers and wheelchairs.

A police investigator searches through the frozen rubble of the Résidence du Havre. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but a coroner found that several factors, including a lack of overnight staffing, contributed to the deaths.

In addition, the section of the Résidence du Havre​ that burned to the ground was not equipped with automatic sprinklers.

No criminal charges in relation to the fire were ever brought forward by Quebec Crown prosecutors.

However, in 2015 the provincial government passed legislation that made automatic sprinklers mandatory in most seniors' residences. They have until December 2020 to comply.

No criminal charges in relation to the fire were ever brought forward by Quebec Crown prosecutors. (Karine Bastien/Radio-Canada)

Residents moving forward

With time, some residents of the community are coming to terms with the events of that night.

A witness of the fire said that after more than a year of  having nightmares, he's starting to sleep better.

"I haven't necessarily accepted it," said André-Jules Lévesque, a former orderly at the residence. "But I've learned to tolerate it."

According to Pierre-Paul Malenfant, the civil safety coordinator of the Lower St. Lawrence health authority, no one has forgotten the deadly fire, but life has continued.

"How the community has taken this in hand and moved past it, it's really a great example of resilience," said Malenfant.

In August 2014, the municipality of L'Isle-Verte unveiled two commemorative plaques with the names of all 52 seniors living in the Résidence du Havre at the time of the fire. (Radio-Canada)

Remains of the building still standing

The remains of the Résidence du Havre still haunt the centre of the town. Little has been done with the burnt out structure since the night of the fire.

"I will really be able to turn the page when they do something with that building. It's like a big black spot in L'Isle-Verte," said Lévesque.

The owner of the residence, Roch Bernier, told Radio-Canada that he doesn't know when the building will be demolished. For the time being, he is focusing his energy on a new seniors' residence he opened in Rivière-du-Loup in May, he said.

The mayor believes development projects, such as the development of an eco-friendly neighbourhood and an agri-tourism zone along Highway 132, will help the community turn the page. (Radio-Canada)

L'Isle-Verte Mayor Ursule Thériault said there's much more to the town than the tragedy. She feels that a number of new projects will help turn the page.

Those projects include include setting up an eco-friendly neighbourhood in the town and developing an agri-tourism zone along Highway 132, which runs through L'Isle-Verte.

There are also plans to expand a seniors' residence, the Villa Rose-des-Vents, which currently houses a dozen people, to double its capacity.

"I think that the people of L'Isle-Verte are doing well, that they're moving on," said Thériault.

"You can see that in everything that's happening, in all the projects that are keeping people busy."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Julie Tremblay