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

2019-07-15

As we enjoy the summer weather, thoughts of cooling off may sometimes cross our minds. Some of us may have fond memories of a few local swimming spots that were once used to beat the summer heat. For more than 35 years, thousands of children and adults made the Cyanamid swimming pool their summer destination of choice.

2019-07-08

At the Library, we truly appreciate the outpouring of support for the Interlibrary Loan Service (ILLO) at the Niagara Falls Public Library (NFPL) after the elimination of the ILLO Delivery Service.  We understand the meaningful impact the service has had on many of our customers. As we know how things change in the world, so it does in the Library world.

2019-07-02

Summer has arrived, and the Niagara Falls Public Library is busy with something for everyone! Be sure to pick up our Summer Library Magazine to learn about all the exciting programs and events happening this summer.  

2019-06-24

June is Pride month and Indigenous month. These topics can be difficult to tackle with children. However, they are also empowering and necessary issues for young minds.

Here at the Niagara Falls Public Library, we have a number of incredible books aimed at younger children that will teach them all about a variety of LGBTQ+ issues and about national Indigenous issues.

2019-06-19

School’s almost out, which means summer reading is almost here.  The Niagara Falls Public Library is once again very excited to participate in the TD Summer Reading Club, Canada’s biggest bilingual summer reading program.  Kids of all ages, interests and abilities can read books, earn prizes and have fun, keeping their reading skills sharp so they’ll be ready when September rolls around.

2019-06-11

Throughout the years, Niagara Falls has certainly seen more than its fair share of Royal visitors. On June 7th of this week, it is the 80th anniversary of one such visit. It also was the first visit ever by a reigning British monarch to Canada.

2019-06-11

When you work in a library, you use library jargon. However, sometimes you forget not all customers know what the “catalogue” is used for. Most recently, with the news about the elimination of the Southern Ontario Library Service’s Interlibrary Loan 

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.

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