Fire destroys Montreal heritage building that housed Canada’s 1st cinema

A major fire today in Montreal’s Chinatown has gutted a heritage building that housed Canada’s first cinema.

The four-storey Robillard Building that dates to 1889 was vacant and being renovated.

More than 50 vehicles and 120 firefighters responded to the five-alarm fire and were working to keep the flames from spreading beyond the building, which is at 974 St-Laurent Blvd. at the corner of Viger Street West.

The fire was reported at 11:19 ET Thursday, said fire Chief Yvon Daunais.

One witness, Robert Décarie, said the smoke and heat from the fire were intense.

“The smoke was as high as 100 metres, and at one point you could feel the heat,” he said.

As of 3:30 p.m. ET, Daunais said the fire was not considered under control because it was still burning in an adjacent three-storey building located at 970 St-Laurent Blvd.

No injuries have been reported.

Daunais said the following streets are closed around the scene of the fire:

  • St-Laurent Boulevard
  • Clark Street
  • Viger Street
  • De la Gauchetière Street

Daunais said the facade of the Robillard Building can’t be saved. Heavy equipment has been called in to knock it down because it’s unstable and considered unsafe.

Robillard Building

The Robillard Building is pictured in May 2016. (Denis-Carl Robidaux/Centre d’histoire de Montréal)

Building ‘important piece’ of Montreal history

According to the Centre d’histoire de Montréal, the first indoor motion-picture projection in Montreal was shown at the building on June 27, 1896, in what was then called the Gaiety Museum and Theatorium.

Robillard Building

The Robillard Building in Montreal is shown as it looked in 1921. A fire Thursday gutted the building that housed Canada’s first cinema. (City of Montreal archives)

“The building was a very important piece of 19th-century history,” said Dinu Bumbaru, policy director of Heritage Montreal. 

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