Petty cash box lost in Lac-Mégantic tragedy finds rightful owner

A petty cash box recovered from the burned-out library in Lac-Mégantic, Que., tells a much more profound story than anyone could have imagined. Nearly a year has passed since a train derailed and exploded there, killing 47 people.

Yannick Gagné is reunited with Musi-Café's petty cash box nearly a year after Lac-Mégantic explosion

A petty cash box recovered from the burned-out library in Lac-Mégantic, Que. has been returned to its rightful owner. 

The library and much of the historic downtown was destroyed on July 6, when a train carrying oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

Diane Roy, the president of the Lac-Mégantic library’s board of directors, told CBC Quebec City reporter Marika Wheeler in September that police had found a petty cash box while sifting through the library's rubble.

When you’ve got nothing left, you’ll latch onto anything.'

The town's librarian, Daniel Lavoie, went to the police station to claim the box, which was covered in grime and oil from the explosion and smelled awful.

“It looked like ours, because it was the same colour and it was in [the librarian’s] office and he was the only one who had a metal desk," Roy said. 

"But there were so much fuel in it, you could not open and know what it was in there, so he put it on a shelf.

“Many months after that, around December, we took it out and we looked at it, and he said it doesn’t look like ours."

Staff didn't want to open the box because the odour was so strong, but they did intend to display it in the new library.

So they put it back on the shelf.

Petty cash mix-up

Yannick Gagné, the owner of popular town haunt Musi-Café — a reso-bar near the train tracks that was crowded with locals at the time of the explosion — told library staff he also had a similar box.

“He said, ‘You’re very lucky you found your petty cash box. We never found ours,’” Roy said.

When the library's staff finally opened the box, they discovered between $2,000 and $3,000 — far more than the library would have had on hand.

Some of the coins had even been melted into the plastic inside the box.

“There was something in the bottom — keys we didn’t know,” Roy said.

They also found deposit slips signed by some of the Musi-Café’s staff members — including Andrée-Anne Sevigny, 26, who died the night of the explosion.

It had been Gagné’s petty cash box all along.

“For him, it was the money from the evening of the disaster. So I’m very happy for him. He lost a lot,” Roy said.

Memory of the old Musi-Café

But how did something from the basement of a bar end up in the rubble of the library, 100 metres away?

Roy and Gagné have a few theories.

Roy thinks it was moved by heavy machinery during the cleanup.

Gagné believes someone may have found the box of money and hid it — perhaps in the end they had a change of heart, or they decided to leave it for someone else to find.

Either way, Gagné is happy to have it back.

"It’s come to mean so much to me, to have anything back from the old Musi-Café," Gagné said.

“When you’ve got nothing left, you’ll latch onto anything,” he said.

He isn’t sure what he’ll do with the money, but he intends to put the disfigured petty cash box on display in the new Musi-Café when it opens.

As for the library, it has its own good news: this past week, the library reopened its doors and lent out its first books in nearly a year.