The death of Paul Comtois #2


The obvious place to start was to peruse the daily papers of the day. That task was made easy by my late mother who had kept copies of all the newspapers published during the week that followed the death of her father. Without doubt she must have intended to one day make a scrapbook, a task that would have been too difficult for her at the time; so she placed the entire editions in a cardboard box where they remained. My mother died in 1984, over 30 years ago, and I inherited the box that has remained unopened for the past 50 years.

I started to read the February 21, 1966, late afternoon editions of the newspapers. My first surprise came in the second paragraph of the Montreal Star article and I quote: “Mr. Comtois perished in the building when he apparently tried to save the Eucharist in a private chapel.” The article did not provide a source for this information but was judged important enough to be mentioned in the second paragraph. The article further states that there were rumours to the effect that two explosions would have preceded the fire and that phone lines had been cut. The article also reminded readers that phone threats had been received over the last two years to the point that police had increased surveillance on the mansion. Two other papers of the same date also mentioned explosions.

If my doubts were lingering, they now seemed to rest on firm but unproven information.

On the day of the fire, with the ruins still smouldering, I was somewhat surprised by a statement reported in the French paper L’Action by sergeant Leo-Edgar Caron, an investigator with the Provincial Police to the effect that they had already eliminated the possibility that the fire might have been a criminal act even though they were not in a position to explain the origins of the fire; that was a few hours after the fire and somewhat premature. I then wondered if the Provincial Police had not received instructions from the government to play down the possibility of a terrorist act. The Liberal government had motivation to downplay this idea: elections were imminent, the Liberals were in trouble and the Province was preparing to invite the world to Expo 67. A terrorist act at that time would have been a public relation nightmare not only for the government but for Expo 67 as well.

In the papers the following day, The Gazette published a highly flattering editorial on Paul Comtois titled “A man of distinction and kindness.” Again the idea that he may have given his life in an attempt to rescue the Eucharist was brought up and again no source is mentioned for the information. On the same day, an editorial praising the devout life of Paul Comtois appeared in L’Action, a Catholic daily, but, surprisingly, there was no mention of the attempt to retrieve the Eucharist.

La Presse reported that the Quebec Provincial Police would hold a coroner’s inquest to be held the following week “in spite of the fact that the case seemed to present no complications” The papers reported that the fire was caused by the explosion of the mansion’s furnace. In the same edition, Julien Chouinard the Provincial Justice Deputy Minister stated that all rumours surrounding the fire were unfounded but that it was too early to make a statement on the causes of “this unfortunate accident”. This sounds like one of those ambiguous statement that our politicians feed us on a regular basis.

Two days later all the papers announced the appointment of a new lieutenant Governor, Hughes Lapointe but a statement by Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson held my attention: “the circumstances so far as I know them at present would seem to warrant an investigation of the origin of the fire”. In reply Premier Lesage responded with a curt: “There was no foul play.” Again an unfounded assertion made before the cause of the fire was known and before the coroner’s inquest.

On the same day, Mr. F.X. Perreault, responsible for the investigation on behalf of the Fire commissioner repeated that they had not as yet determined the cause of the fire but that they were now in a position to declare that the furnaces were not involved. He went further on to declare that they now believed that the fire had begun on the ground floor in the front hallway.

At that time, a potential terrorist act may have still been in the cards but nobody wanted to raise the possibility except for Auguste Choquette, the liberal MP for the Lotbinière riding who had strong doubts to the point where he submitted a question to the Commons: “Is the RCMP involved in the investigation of the fire at the Bois-de-Coulonge mansion and do they have any indications to the possible involvement of terrorists from the separatist revolutionaries?” The question never made it to the agenda.

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