An artist's rendering of the new Musi-Cafe bar - Date/Artist unknown.
12 May 2014
Lake Megantic Bar Starts Rebuilding After Deadly Train Accident
Lake Megantic Quebec - Time has passed in Lake Megantic but the anxiety has not.
Ten months after the train disaster that killed 47 people in the eastern Quebec town, residents should be gearing up for a bustling tourist season where the Chaudiere River meets the lake for which the town is named.
Instead they are still finding their feet after the tragedy and hoping that a construction project begun last week will return some spirit to a town that has known only ghosts since 6 Jul 2013, when a runaway train loaded with crude oil jumped the tracks and wiped out a swath of the downtown.
The project that is being unveiled Tuesday, the reconstruction of the Musi-Cafe, a popular local bar, is both emotional and practical.
Practical because the destruction of the rallying point for local revellers, karaoke singers, and visiting musical acts has left Lake Megantic without a nightlife or place to celebrate moments of joy.
It is charged with emotion because the bar that was located next to the train tracks on the main downtown strip was where about 30 of the 47 victims were enjoying drinks, music, and friends when the train flipped, caught fire, and exploded.
Just a few things were recovered from the epicentre of the tragedy: a German beer sign, a few steel beer kegs, a glass, a metal drink shaker, and a patio umbrella that had been stored in the basement of the bar.
But the most touching item bar owner Yannick Gagne now has in his possession is the charred and twisted steel box that held the petty cash, coins, keys to the bar, and the paper deposit slips signed by staff, three of whom were killed the night of the train derailment.
It was thought to have been incinerated in the fires, but was instead discovered in the wreckage around Lake Megantic's former library, located down the street from the former site of the Musi-Cafe, just two months ago.
"They put it aside and when they opened it three weeks or one month later they realized there was too much money for it to belong to the library and there were special objects inside like keys, because I always kept the keys inside," Gagne told the Star Monday.
These items, along with some wooden floor planks and tiles that survived the inferno will make up part of a memorial that will adorn the new bar when it opens in August or September.
It will honour all of the townsfolk who died that morning, but especially the many whose last moments were spent inside the bar.
Quebec construction firm Bone Structure is handling the construction and other companies from the province are providing the design, engineering, and labour.
The new Musi-Cafe will be just 6,000 square-feet of commercial space located at the end of Lake Megantic's relocated downtown strip, but it is nevertheless an "overwhelming project," said Marc Bovet, head of Bone Structure.
"It's not just a building any more, it's a spirit. It's where everybody is expected to come back and I'm sure they'll have some tears about the past but that's where they can rebuild with that sort of human intention of looking forward," he said.
"Yannick has been designated, whether he wanted it or not, as being the leader of rebuilding this community and it doesn't all come with bricks and mortar."
Even as they have poured the concrete and erected the steel beams, Gagne said the foundation for the project is still fragile because of his own uncertainty.
"I had doubts and I still do. I've started rebuilding and I ask myself if I've done the right thing because I am doing it for the people of Lake Megantic, not for myself," he said.
"I'm never going to make the same kind of money that I made before because everything's going to be more expensive. My rent is going to cost more, the taxes will be higher. I'm not winning out of this."
He's not alone.
Though a few businesses have opened up on the new downtown strip, others are still waiting longer than they would have hoped for, tied up by compensation funding and other payments that have taken longer than anticipated, said Gagne, who says even he is waiting on a $300,000 payment that will go toward completing the $1.8-million Musi-Cafe reconstruction.
The mounting debts, the missed deadlines, and the continued worry are underscored by regular reminders of what happened nearly a year ago.
On Monday, it was the revelation that there are still large traces of the 6-million litres of oil that have been found in the Chaudiere River, although authorities say local water is still safe to drink.
The town council was also expected to approve a deal Monday evening with Fortress Investment Group, the new owners of the railway that snakes through town like a scar.