The burial register of Montréal’s Notre-Dame Church contains very laconic entries. However, sometimes, we are in for a surprise, such as the reading of the one of July 3, 1857 regarding Josephte Cantin.
“On the 3rd of July one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven, I, undersigned priest, have buried Josette Cantin, wife of Michel Tourville, killed on June 26 in the burning of the steamer Montreal, of this parish.”
La Minerve newspaper’s edition of July 1st, 1857 gives us more details about this tragedy. The steamship Montreal caught fire on the St. Lawrence River, a mile upstream from Cap Rouge on Friday, June 26, around 5 p.m., about an hour after leaving the Port of Québec. It was heading to Montréal.
The boat had on its board about 400 to 500 passengers, mostly Scottish immigrants who just left the Mackenzie travelling from Glasgow. Another steamer, the Napoléon, was able to help save about a hundred of passengers. The others were burnt to death or drowned. The Napoléon and the Montreal left Québec City about the same time. When the fire started, the Napoléon was able to turn back and approach the Montreal and help save some passengers. Meanwhile, Montreal‘s captain had tried to bring his boat ashore but he hit a rock instead. Many passengers jumped off the boat but as that rock was isolated, most of them drowned.
Bodies recovered by the Napoléon were brought at the morgue of Pointe-St-Charles. A massive crowd was waiting for the steamer at the port but the police was there to avoid any panic or confusion. People who were severely injured were taken to hospitals. Other more fortunate were greeted by different charity organisations who took them to the Immigration Hall on Commissioners St. where volunteers from the Catholic and Protestant institutions were waiting for them.
It was by then known that the Montreal‘s boilers were the cause of the fire. This kind of incident had happened already four or five times since the beginning of the season. The newspaper reported numerous shipwrecks in the past and put the blame on the negligence of the carriers. An investigation will of course take place, but La Minerve deplores the fact that it would result in no change.
We can only imagine the pain of her husband, Michel Tourville, who was the one to identify the body. Why was Josephte Cantin aboard the Montreal? We will probably never know.Josephte Cantin was married to Michel Tourville on July 10, 1815 in Lachenaie, at the age of 16. The couple had 16 children. Michel Tourville died in 1860.