Knights of Columbus Hostel Fire

St. John's Evening Telegram
Front page of the St. John's Evening Telegram, Monday, December 14, 1942

    On Saturday, December 12,  1942, many people in St. John's were sitting at home behind their blackout curtains, listening to "Uncle Tim's Barn Dance" on the radio station VOCM. This weekly program was broadcast live from the Knights of Columbus Leave Centre on Harvey Road in St. John's. Just after 11:00 pm, people listening to the broadcast heard the singer on stage break off in the middle of a song, then someone shouted "Fire, fire."  Sounds of people panicking could be heard, then smashing glass, then the broadcast went silent.

    About 500 people were in the building when it caught fire. Most were watching the radio broadcast, but some were sleeping in the servicemen's hostel.  The windows in the hall of the newly-built K of C Leave Centre had been boarded over to meet blackout regulations. Doors were either locked, or barred from the outside. The wooden building burned very quickly. Paper streamers that had decorated the ceiling of the hall ignited and fell onto the people below. A few windows and doors were smashed open, but many people could not escape. As the building rapidly burned to the ground, 99 people died, and another 107 were hurt. St. John's had seen many serious fires over the years, but never one with such loss of life. At the time, there were rumours of sabotage by a German agent, but the cause of the fire was never determined.

    If you walk along Harvey Road today, not far from the Tim Horton's you will see a set of cement steps that seem to lead nowhere. This is the site of the Knights of Columbus Leave Centre. At the top of the steps is a granite memorial commemorating those who died in the fire.

To Find Out More

Look at the articles "Fires" and "Knights of Columbus" in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

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