Author Topic: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.  (Read 19147 times)

BCID

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Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« on: October 28, 2010, 08:04:02 PM »
Reprinted from Downhome Magazine (Newfoundland):

On December 12, 1942, the Knights of Columbus Hostel on Harvey Road in St. John's was filled with off-duty servicemen and their dates who had come for Uncle Tim's Barn Dance.

At approximately 11:10 p.m., Royal Canadian Navy Signalman Maurice Weldon was preparing for bed on the hostel's second floor when he witnessed a member of the Newfoundland militia open a cupboard and he met with a wall of flame. The militiaman ran down the stairs yelling "Fire!".

By thistime smoke and flames had already crept into the packed auditorium. Shortly after, the power lines burned, throwing the interior of the building into blackness. People were hampered in their escape by a lack of emergency lighting, doors that opened inward and plywood blackout shutters overthe windows.

At around 11:14, Constable Steve Reynolds, stationed at nearby Rawlin's Cross, saw the fire light up the night sky and notified theCentral Fire Hall. Firefighters were on the scene within two minutes, but by then the wooden structure was beyond saving and 99 people had already perished inside.

Justice Brian Dunfield concluded the fire was deliberately set, but no one was ever convicted of the crime.

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2010, 02:43:59 PM »
BCID, thanks for starting this thread.
Below is a link to more information.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Columbus_Hostel_fire

jellybean

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2010, 08:01:07 PM »
This was in 1942.  A different and bigoted world during that time. 

BCID

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2010, 05:36:16 AM »
This is the problem with wikipedia. It is usually filled with incorrect info.

I am grabbing the original press reports and thus far I see no mention of sabotage by Nazis.
And if it is believed the result of Nazis, then why the hostel which had no military value. And the amount of militia that would be killed was a small amount at best.

The police currently believe it was an act of arson and are keeping their mind open on any tips.

Unfortunately, when someone says the Nazis were most likely responsible, people tend not to care anymore and chalk it up to some old war event. I think of it now as my grandmother did then, it was an act by someone that took many people from their families that night. The person responsible may still be alive. And if he/she is, then that person needs to answer for it.

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2010, 01:05:32 PM »
I don't have the original reports at hand..wish I did.  And yes, I realize wikipedia is not always that accurate.  You know, I was totally unaware of this fire until about a year ago.  The story was mentioned in a book by a cdn author whose name escapes me.  But it was mentioned that perhaps it was started by a Nazi spy..for what reason, none was given other than perhaps someone in particular was targeted.  Somehow, I can't envision a Newfoundlander committing such a horrendous act.  For years, the government denied German subs entered St. John's harbour and years later those documents were released to the public, proving this was indeed fact at the time. 
It's amazing whatone can do with a particular data base.  I went to my library today and had them do a search of the fire.  They have the info I asked and the mention of Nazis but are unable to narrow down a particular book.  The gal in the circulation dept was so interested she said she would search at home for me.  I thought that was so nice!

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2010, 01:18:28 PM »
There is a book available on the subject, written by Darrin Mcgrath.
Last Dance: The Knights of Columbus Fire: St. John's, Dec. 12, 1942

Here's small portion that mentions Nazi Germany:

"December 12, 1942 gave witness to one of the most devastating fires ever to occur in St. John's, Newfoundland. That night, 99 civilians and military personnel perished in what was likely an incidence of enemy sabotage. Newfoundlanders and U.S. servicemen alike lost their lives in the fire and joined the ranks of those hundreds of thousands killed during World War II. This book explores the possibility, and ultimately the near certainty, that agents of Nazi Germany orchestrated this great tragedy"

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1894463250?_encoding=UTF8&tag=explorenewfou-20&linkCode=as3&camp=15041&creative=395597

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2010, 02:37:26 PM »
K of C memories still sharp
A police officer runs past the Knights of Columbus Hostel Dec. 12, 1942. When the smoke had cleared, 99 people had died in the blaze. Photo courtesy The Rooms Provincial Archives, B 9-128, "Knights of Columbus Hostel fire, Harvey Road, St. John's, 12 Dec
Published on December 12th, 2007
Published on June 30th, 2010
Darrin McGrath  Survivor recalls a night of chaos 65 years ago
Topics : Knights of Columbus , United Service Organization , General Hospital , St. John's , Harvey Road , Parade Street
It was 65 years ago to the day that 99 people lost their lives in the deadly inferno that was the Knights of Columbus (K of C) Hostel fire.
Many more were horribly burned.
That Saturday, Dec. 12, 1942, was a frosty night, windless and cold.
The Second World War was raging and St. John's was heavily militarized. The United States had a base there, and thousands of American servicemen roamed the city. On Saturday nights, they looked for recreation and often found it at the K of C Hostel on Harvey Road.
In 1942, the hostel was less than a year old. Its two floors offered eating and recreation space, an auditorium and dormitories.
While a sense of pre-Christmas cheer prevailed, military and civilian policemen patrolled the city with restless vigilance. In the three months previous, the German navy had made several attacks in Newfoundland's coastal waters. Four iron-ore carriers were sunk at the Bell Island anchorage with a loss of 69 lives, while the SS Caribou was sunk in October 1942 with a loss of 137 souls.
Mary (Strickland) Thistle, a pretty 19-year-old, was there that night.
Mary (Strickland) Thistle lived on Parade Street, just around the corner from the hostel, where her mother, Mae Flynn (see photo), ran a candy store.
"I used to go the K of C hostel quite regularly because it was so close to my home," Mary recalls.
"They used to get really big crowds there especially on Saturday nights when they'd have entertainment."
On that fateful night, Mary and a neighbour, Frances Dunfield, went to the K of C to hear songs from a local troupe, Uncle Tim's Barn Dance.
"I remember that the hall was jam-packed and the first sign of trouble I noticed was that there was like a haze coming around" Mary said.
"This haze or smoke did not stop the band from playing and things kept going on. Then the lights went out and someone yelled, 'Fire!' It happened very quickly."
Because of the wartime blackout regulations, the hotel windows had been covered with plywood shutters to prevent light from escaping into the inky night.
Those shutters would become death traps for the hundreds of people scrambling to get out through the smoke and flames in the auditorium.
To make matters worse, the hostel doors opened inwards. As the crowd surged against the doors, the weight of the panic-stricken concert-goers kept the doors tightly pushed shut.
The Uncle Tim's Barn Dance concert was being broadcast live on VOCM Radio that night, and for a few minutes just after 11 p.m., the terrified screams of the trapped crowd could be heard on radios in homes throughout VOCM's broadcast network.
Mary Thistle said the K of C quickly became a sea of chaos, terror and horror.
"I tripped a couple of times in the darkness and fell down. People were knocking down the old tin chairs as they ran for the doors. Somebody threw me out a door or window, and when I woke up, or came to, I was behind the CLB Armory," she recalled.
"My face, hands and legs were badly burned. I saw a man standing nearby who lived on Parade Street and I called out to him but I was so badly burned that he didn't recognize me."
The neighbour got another man and together they carried Mary to her mother's house, where Mae Flynn was anxiously awaiting word of her daughter.
Mary was carried into the house and carefully placed on the living room floor. Her mother and grandmother, Catherine Goodland, began to attend to her horrible injuries.
"I remember my grandmother cutting away the dead skin on my legs. She thought it was burnt-up stockings. But I didn't feel anything because I guess I was in shock," Mary says.
By this time, the hostel had been reduced to a pile of flaming rubble. Dead bodies lay in the ruins like scorched logs.
Military and civilian policemen tried to control the scene and attempted to help the victims. Harvey Road, Parade Street and Merrymeeting Road were jammed with ambulances, fire cars and military trucks. Chaos ruled the night as the flames leapt skyward and the water from fire hoses froze on the frigid streets.
After Mary had been given as much help as could be provided, an aunt and uncle rolled her in a blanket and carried her up Merrymeeting Road where they got a car and took her to the old General Hospital.
She spent almost a full year in hospital recovering from her burns, and underwent many rehabilitative surgeries under the care of Dr. Nigel Rusted.
Fortunately, she didn't get an infection.
"Dr. Rusted worked with me to help me recover," she said.
"He used to sit by my bedside and tell me that if I worked with him, we could do a lot together. I used to cry and worry about who would marry me since I was so badly burned. Dr. Rusted used to tell me that he would save one finger for a ring for me."
The official response to the fire was swift.
On Dec. 23, 1942, Justice Brian Dunfield was given the task of leading an official inquiry into the blaze, assisted by Col. John Beretta of the U.S. Army.
Dunfield interviewed survivors, eye-witnesses and others. Mary Thistle could not appear before the inquiry because she was bedridden.
Dunfield delivered his report in February 1943. One of his main conclusions was that the fire had been deliberately set by persons unknown.
Around the same time as the K of C fire, there was a rash of suspicious fires throughout St. John's at sites frequented by the military.
The Old Colony Club, for example, was a gathering place for air officers. It was burned, killing four people. The United Service Organization (USO) club on Merrymeeting Road was also the site of a fire, as were two barracks at Signal Hill and Shamrock Field.
Dunfield noted the suspicious nature of these fires. Rumours swirled throughout St. John's that a Nazi spy was responsible.
Mary Thistle certainly believes the K of C fire was deliberate.
"I think the fire was sabotage for one reason," she explained. "The four ends of the building caught fire at once. If a fire started in a house it would be in one room, not all around at once. We had all nationalities here during the war and it would have been easy for a spy to blend in."
Mary Thistle went on to marry and raise five children: Pat, Ben, Rhonda, Linda and Elizabeth.
Each year on Dec. 12, she attends the memorial service at the fire monument on Harvey Road.

Darrin McGrath is the author of "Last Dance: The Knights of Columbus Fire" (Flanker Press).

http://www.thetelegram.com/World/2007-12-12/article-1441692/K-of-C-memories-still-sharp/1

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2010, 02:45:02 PM »
Here's another link regarding the fire, it's too long to copy but is excellent.
The link is aslo very useful to search for many other topics of interest.  As a former Newfoundlander myself, I have used this link to search for ancestors..lots of info on there.
http://ngb.chebucto.org/Articles/dis-knights-of-columbus-1942.shtml

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2010, 03:04:04 PM »
Here's another link with an actual photo of the page of the day.
http://www.janetmcnaughton.ca/fire.html

BCID

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2010, 01:45:43 AM »
Yes, my grandmother was there too. She had just finished a shift at her work up the street. A friend and her decided to head to the dance but when they arrived and walked in, they found the place crowded, They left after three minutes. Her friend and her went their seperate ways once outside. It's when my grandmother was half-way home that she said she heard a explosion (possibly the roof caving in). She said she turned around and saw the fire from her standing point.

When I have a chance, I will read all of the press reports at my disposal. I'm still leaning away from the idea of nazi sabotage. A newfoundlander could do it just as Newfoundlanders have comitted murders and rapes. There are always those willing to cause harm to others.

But let's look at it this way, if it's just a regular citizen, then today it would be multiple life sentences since we abolished the death penatly in Canada. But if it was a Nazi, then that is where the UN becomes involved. Because the arson of a non-military target which contained non-military citizens is deemed a war crime (I believe) and that is punishable by death.

I will add more info over the next few weeks. I'll add more detail of the crime if I can and names of the victims (but you have better access to that than I do). If we have a list victims, we can add faces to this horrible incident.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2010, 01:47:43 AM by BCID »

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2010, 04:44:30 PM »
BCID, thanks for sharing the background regarding your grandmother and that awful evening.  From what I have read, this was so horrific and so many, such as your grandmother were spared, thank goodness. 
In my search for information, it has never lead me to a suspect, a Newfoundlander..there has never been even a hint of a name. 
This was such a horrific crime if perpetrated by a local.  Good grief, Newfoundlanders were the very first to answer Churchill's call for help in the war against Hitler.  At that time. 1942, Newfoundland was under Britian's rule not yet being a province of Canada ( 1949)  So many of those poor boys answered the call..the Newfoundland Regiment lost so many men.  Entire sea ports and small villiages were wiped out of all young men in their teens..some as young as 14 who lied about their age. 

jellybean

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2010, 02:26:08 PM »
In 1942, let me say this. Bigotry was rampant. A Catholic never married a Protestant.  An English woman should only marry an English man,  Irish people were considered drunkards. (Couldn't or shouldn't marry them)  The class system in Canada, went like this,  What religion, what nationality, better chances if you were of English descent, and carried an English last name, than it was further filtered down, as to your way of making a living. A garbage man's daughter could never mix with a Policeman, or a Firefighter.  We were so filtered it was sickening.  A lot of lovely families were considered to be losers.  I am not surprised that this fire happened.  Look, full circle has come around.  We have hate mail, hate this and that, against all of those who don't fit into the above category. It is self-defeating in society.  It robs us  of strength of purpose to build, and move forward  together as one nation.
Color of skin?  Should not matter, It is how we live our lives, in our small way, contribute to our neighbors, and interact with each other, and learn from each other, that matters.  Closed minds brings problems to every nation. 
Am this is a good topic, keep up the good work.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2010, 02:39:17 PM by jellybean »

Woodland

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #12 on: November 16, 2010, 04:48:45 PM »
BCID - have been asking my husbands elderly family about this incident - they remember and they were there.

They recall a local as the most likely suspect.  A nazi sneaking into the harbor, making their way to shore, sneaking up to the building without bringing their own incendiary device is beyond their comprehension.  Speaking with a german accent would have attracted attention as well, in their opinion.  Not having to speak to anyone during all this would have been suspicious and mentioned afterwards as well, according to them.

A local looking for toilet paper to light on fire makes more sense to them - since it was the toilet paper determined to have started the fire.

Do you have any more info?

amIam

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #13 on: November 19, 2010, 06:34:59 PM »
In 1942, let me say this. Bigotry was rampant. A Catholic never married a Protestant.  An English woman should only marry an English man,  Irish people were considered drunkards. (Couldn't or shouldn't marry them)  The class system in Canada, went like this,  What religion, what nationality, better chances if you were of English descent, and carried an English last name, than it was further filtered down, as to your way of making a living. A garbage man's daughter could never mix with a Policeman, or a Firefighter.  We were so filtered it was sickening.  A lot of lovely families were considered to be losers.  I am not surprised that this fire happened.  Look, full circle has come around.  We have hate mail, hate this and that, against all of those who don't fit into the above category. It is self-defeating in society.  It robs us  of strength of purpose to build, and move forward  together as one nation.
Color of skin?  Should not matter, It is how we live our lives, in our small way, contribute to our neighbors, and interact with each other, and learn from each other, that matters.  Closed minds brings problems to every nation. 
Am this is a good topic, keep up the good work.

Jellybean..I just want to say first and foremost that this topic was started by BCID..not
myself..just don't want you to think  this is the case.  However, I am very interested as being from this area and aware of the extensive history and am so glad he created this thread.

However I don't share you views regarding religion and race..in Newfoundland, in 1942.  I am not in the least suggusting you are incorrect but unless you are aware of the cultural background of Newfoundland during the WWII, it is difficult to follow. 

No offence meant and I certainly hope none was taken on your part.


BCID

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Re: Knights of Columbus Hostel arson - over 99 people murdered.
« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2010, 04:51:59 AM »
As I find more articles on the incident, I will post the info here.

From April 1943, previously thought missing after the Knights of Columbus fire, now missing presumed dead are (updated to December 12, 1942). Added are their living relations at the time:

Rodrigue Bernier, Leading Writer, Royal Canadian Navy
- Alphee Bernier (father) - St. Ludger, Rivete du Loup, Quebec

Robert Samuel Greer, Stoker (1st class), R.C.N.V.R.
- Dorothy Greer (wife) - Halifax, Nova Scotia

George Joseph Leonard, OS,  R.C.N.V.R.
- William Leonard (father) - Hammond, Ontario

Fernand Vaillancourt, sick berth attendent (probationer), R.C.N.V.R.
- Rose Vaillancourt (mother) - North Bay, Ontario

Wilbert Crothers Wallace, OS, R.C.N.V.R.
- Enid M. Wallace (mother) - Wawanesa, Manitoba

Hector Albert Woolley, Ordinary Signalman, R.C.N.V.R.
- Francis Woolley (father) - Hamilton, Ontario
« Last Edit: November 27, 2010, 05:18:59 AM by BCID »