The death of Paul Comtois #6

Part #6: CONCLUSION?                                                                                         

The coroner then questioned a number of first respondents including Gerard Tobin, the fire chief of the city of Sillery where Bois-de-Coulonge was located. He described some of the difficulties encountered with incompatible fire hydrants, lack of water and low pressure. He admitted, however, that even without these problems, they could not have saved the mansion. In his words: “it was a real tinderbox”.

The line of questioning of the final witnesses revolved around the mansion’s electrical systems: Marcel Kowslowski, the cook and Leopold Lemieux the maintenance superintendent, testified that they were not aware of any electrical problems, except for a blown fuse. Finally, Jules Bédard, an electrician responsible for the electrical installations maintenance, informed the coroner that the electrical wiring had been changed in 1955, ten years before the fire and that in 1964, in preparation for the Queen’s visit, the electrical systems had all been checked. That was two years before the fire.

The final witness was Bernard Bakelet, a forensic chemist, who testified that he had visited the site on the 22nd and could not see any evidence of an explosion. He then proceeded with a long explanation on the process of elimination he used to arrive at the “only” conclusion possible: that the fire “without a doubt” was caused by an electrical problem linked to the cold rooms in the basement of the mansion just below the front hallway.

In his opinion, the fire was caused by an electric arc between the lighting systems inside and outside the cold rooms as evidenced by photographs showing metal beads from the wiring. The coroner, Doctor Claude Drouin, when arriving at his conclusion, relied on this testimony and thus ruled the death accidental. That was more than 50 years ago. Recent literature on the causes of fires due to electric arcing, has come to the conclusion that it is impossible to distinguish between beads that “cause” and beads that are the “result” of a fire. The right conclusion, given the state of science today, would have been that the fire was the result of an “undetermined cause”.

As I did my research, I wondered about the whereabouts of the paten and the small metal box that were found near the body. I wrote to the Commission de la capital national du Québec and received a reply from an historian, Frédéric Smith, employed by the Commission, who informed me that they did not know where the objects had ended up. I also wrote to the Archdiocese of Quebec and received no reply.

In March of this year, in its February/March edition, the magazine LE Verbe, published a lengthy article on Paul Comtois under the title: “The man behind the legend.” Le Verbe is a Catholic publication with the mission of supporting the Catholic Church. In the article, the journalist, Yves Casgrain, wrote about his visit to the Archives of the Quebec diocese and how he had the opportunity to touch the liturgical objects and the 2 reliquaries found next to the body of Paul Comtois. He did not provide a description of the liturgical objects but he provided information on the content of the box: the first reliquary contained some of the remains of Pierre-Julien Eymard. He had no information on the content of the second reliquary.

I am curious to find out more about this Pierre-Julien Eymard (1811–1868) and I learn that he is considered to be the apostle of the Eucharist and the founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, Paul Comtois would have died in an attempt to save the Eucharist and a reliquary of a saint known for his devotion to the Eucharist was found next to his body. My scepticism just returned.

The events took place more than fifty years ago, the witnesses are gone and the available documentation is not conclusive.

My doubts remain.


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