|Journal||The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth|
On January 9, 1927, a fire tore through the Laurier Palace, a cinema located in a French-speaking, working-class neighborhood on the east side of Montreal. Seventy-eight children died. This article uses the abundant documentation generated by the fire to explore a number of themes related to working-class childhood in early-twentieth-century Montreal: children’s autonomy versus parental surveillance and authority; the place of commercial leisure and petty consumption in the lives of working-class children; and contemporary understandings of such tragic accidents as the Laurier Palace fire. The article reflects on the promise and perils of what David Lowenthal has termed the “voyeuristic empathy” promoted by historians. Are historians of youth, what one scholar calls “latter-day child savers,” more likely than others to adopt a perspective reliant upon (or vulnerable to) such empathy?