Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Glimpsing Working-Class Childhood through the Laurier Palace Fire of 1927: The Ordinary, the Tragic, and the Historian's Gaze

Document type Article
Author Fahrni, Magda
Journal The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
Volume 8
Date 2015 Fall
ISSN 1941-3599
Pages 426-450


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?