The Laurier Palace Theatre fire which claimed the lives of 78 Montreal children in January of 1927 made headlines all over North America. The above front page from the Arizona Daily Star was recently added to our collection.
Like many newspapers who reported the tragic event, it also pointed out other infamous theatre disasters. Among them: the Gillis Theatre, Kansas City (1925); Knickerbocker Theatre Washington, D.C. (1922); Rialto Theatre, New Haven, CT (1921); Catherine St. movie house, New York City, (1920).
As mentioned in an earlier post about the Laurier Palace, at the time, nobody under 15 was allowed into a movie theatre in Ontario without supervision, except on Saturdays, where theatres employed a matron to watch the children. While Ontario laws were some of strictest in the country, the event in Montreal did remind some that the laws had to be revised. Ryerson University sociologist Paul Moore adds: “The real difference between Montreal and Toronto was lax vs. strict enforcement and policing. The resulting investigation and criminal case against Ameen Lawand, manager of the Laurier Palace, logged how routinely the laws were bent and ignored.”
In 1927, Toronto had 109 cinemas with seating for 86,845 patrons. Theatres like the Loew’s Uptown, which was showing Summer Bachelors with Madge Bellamy that weekend, was given a clear inspection from the fire department. However, while most of the smaller neighborhood theatres complied with regulations, many asked if the standards were high enough, and an inquest was launched at the behest of the Theatres Inspection branch. In an effort to reassure movie-goers, Tom Daly, long-time manager at the Tivoli, printed up emergency plans and handed them out to attendants and even projected glass slides on screen prior to the movie.
Arizona Daily Star, January 10, 1927.
Toronto Star, January 10, 12, 1927.