The day that Loretto Academy burned
Loretto Academy after the fire

81 years ago, the city of Niagara Falls experienced one of its greatest fires in history when disaster struck at Loretto Academy on the evening of January 10th, 1938. In 1861, a tavern called The Canada House was repaired and remodeled for the five Sisters of Loretto who formed the first community. After the sale of some property to the railway in 1869, construction began on the strong stone structure now known as the North Wing. Ten years later, the Central and South wings were added and the original Canada House was relocated to the rear of the property.

The evening of the fire was a typical one for Niagara; clear, cold and windy with some snow on the ground. At 9:00 p.m., the 65 children (ranging in age from 5 to 17) and 40 nuns had just settled down in their beds for the night. Thankfully, the fire was discovered early and all residents were successfully alerted. All of the children were wrapped in warm blankets and evacuated to safety.

Not long after, the neighbours arrived to lend a helping hand. More than 170 boys and seminarians from the adjacent Mount Carmel College quickly rescued as much artwork and furniture as they could to the safety of Mount Carmel’s gymnasium. Shortly after, fire crews and equipment arrived from many local fire stations as well as additional men and equipment from New York.

Although the exact cause was never determined, the fire was believed to have started in a laundry chute. The flames spread rapidly through the upper floors of the Central and South wings before high winds caused the flames to move downward to the main and second floors. The convent was soon a blazing spectacle that was visible for miles against the dark winter sky. The fire drew hundreds of onlookers to the scene and caused one of the worst traffic jams in Niagara Falls history.

Although originally thought to be in the $350,000 range, damages from the fire later totalled $650,000, which was quite a sum in 1938! Miraculously, the original North Wing remained undamaged. As well, the walls in the fire ravaged Central and South wings were proven to be structurally sound and were utilized in the rebuilding in the same year. Although the top floor and the famous cupola were never rebuilt, restorations to the property were completed in September of 1938.

Sadly, Loretto Academy is no longer open. It closed its boarding school in 1969 but continued as a day school called Loretto High School until 1982. From 1982 to 2005, the Loretto Christian Life Centre operated out of the building offering spiritual retreats to many grade 8 students and various other groups. Now owned by a hotel development company, I certainly hope that the original structure can be preserved for future generations. To view more historic images of iconic local buildings, please visit our Historic Niagara Digital Collections at: http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/

Cathy Roy is the local history librarian.

Library Notes

2019-05-21

Niagara Falls Public Library launched its Seed to Seed collection May 17.

If you come to any of the library's four locations across Niagara Falls you can "borrow" up to three packages of seeds.

After you've planted the seeds and harvested your vegetables, you can set aside some seeds to give back to the library so another person can enjoy the collection.

2019-05-13

Mental Health Week invites us to be mindful with meditation at Niagara Falls library.

In our ongoing effort to meet community needs wherever we can, Niagara Falls Public Library has been running a series of mental health and wellness programs at our four branches throughout 2019.

2019-05-08

Have you ever been curious about what it would be like to grow your own vegetables? Have you ever thought about teaching your children or grandchildren where their food comes from?

Or, like me, have you ever been known for having a black or a brown thumb?

2019-04-25

On Thursday, April 25th the Niagara Falls Public Library will be unveiling its new board game collection. Board Games are a great way to reduce screen time, to interact face-to-face with family and friends, and to challenge yourself in new and interesting ways.

2019-04-25

Calling all Book Lovers! Please join us for our annual Book Lover’s Luncheon. Enjoy a delicious lunch catered by Tastebuds Cafe and Eatery and meet special guest, Cea Sunrise Person author of North of Normal and its sequel Nearly Normal.

2019-04-12

Since the mid-20th century, human beings have wrought unprecedented changes to the Earth, bringing us into a new epoch of geologic time: the Anthropocene.

2019-03-31

You’re invited to help us at the Library. On April 1, 2019 we are embarking on a year-long project called Bridge to understand how libraries use technology.

2019-03-26

When we think about sports excellence in the City of Niagara Falls, we can include both team sports and individual activities. Although it may not be the first sport that pops into to your mind, one such sport has a long history in the City of Niagara Falls!

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