MONTREAL – About 150 Montreal firefighters were called in to battle an early-morning five-alarm fire that consumed the condemned Église du Centre-Ville on René Lévesque Blvd. near Atwater Ave.
The blaze at the former Franciscan church, which was built in 1893, spread to the roof of a neighbouring building and did minor damage.
The church had become so run down before it closed that services were held in a basement chapel out of fears that the roof could hurt someone, said a former parishioner.
Montreal fire department operations chief Richard Laporte said the building was known to have been used by squatters. He also said the fire department was trying to determine if it was being renovated.
“If so, it means it was unprotected and the main structure was exposed,” he said.
Laporte said the fire was first reported just after 5 a.m. By the time the first unit arrived, the church was already engulfed in flames and it was immediately declared a five-alarm fire. Four hours later, hoses were still pouring water into the church while a payloader set to knocking down its walls after it was determined the historical structure could not be salvaged.
Laporte said the fire deaprtment was left with no choice because the structure could have collapsed.
“When it threatens firefighters lives, and possibly the lives of civilians down the road why have to tear it down. It poses a threat.”
The last service to be held in the basement chapel was in May 2007, when 400 people people attended a 90-minute mass celebrated by Pierre Brunette, provincial of the Franciscans.
The church on the main floor, known as the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, had been closed since 1997. The firary once housed as many as 50, but only four priests and brothers were living in the monastery when it closed. The Franciscans left the property after learning it would cost $5 million to repair the fieldstone church.
No one was injured in the fire. The cause of the fire is still unknown.