Fire and Ice

ZOOMER Magazine
December 1, 2014

[This article was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Read the full article here.]

A year after a nursing home fire devastated a small Quebec town, Alex Roslin revisits that fateful night and asks whether continued political apathy on safety measures might expose how we value the vulnerable.

It was one of the coldest days of an unusually nasty winter, even for L'Isle Verte. A bracing northern wind blew all day out of the snowy Charlevoix Mountains. It tore across the frozen mouth of the St. Lawrence River, 25 kilometres wide at this point, and blasted the village of 1,400 nestled on the river's south shore, six hours northeast of Montreal.

Fifty-two elderly denizens of L'Isle Verte huddled in the warmth in the Résidence du Havre seniors home, gazing out at the colourful row of ice fishing shacks that stood on the frozen river. They were used to harsh weather. Most had farmed the land and fished for smelt and herring all their lives. But even for such sturdy folk, this day -- Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 -- was a little much. Most hadn't ventured into the bitter weather and deep snows for days....