Days before another dark anniversary for Lac-Mégantic, a group of concerned citizens marched to protest the return of crude oil — set to be shipped through the town via rail once again come January — and to call attention to the stalled development of their city centre.
On July 6, 2013, an unmanned train carrying 72 tankers of crude oil exploded in the heart of the city, killing 47 of its residents and spilling 5.5 million litres of crude.
“The tragedy here is that nothing has changed – nothing,” says Jonathan Santerre, the founder of Le Carré Bleu Lac-Mégantic, a citizen’s group pushing for more transparency surrounding the reconstruction efforts.
Santerre claims little public information has been available to residents about what is happening and where this dirt is going. He questions how crude can come back before a cleanup. He is critical of the city’s redesign, too — that surviving turn-of-the-century heritage buildings were knocked down despite a petition to save them. But he is most concerned about history repeating itself. “After two years, are we any more secure?”
“If you follow the angle of this track, it still turns directly into Musi-Café.” Santerre says in what sounds like disbelief, pointing to the rails behind him. “Why build a new downtown in another place the train will pass?”
Frustrated by the developments, Santerre created the Carré Bleu in February of 2014 to defend the roughly 5,900 residents that remain in town, and to honour the memory of the 47 who died. There are more than 2,000 members on the Facebook page they use to mobilize.
“We must continue to fight for our security because we’re the ones who lived,” he says. “The cost [of this accident] has been incredible, incalculable. Apart from the millions of dollars it took to decontaminate and rebuild, I’m talking about the human cost. This human cost is too high.”
Saturday was Pauline Grondin’s first walk through the new downtown and disaster zone, which she usually avoids. “You can still smell it, it smells like tar,” says Ms. Grondin, her eyes welling up with tears. She, along with 110 other families, lost a loved one that day.
“It really moves me,” Grondin says. “I don’t hope for anything. I’m just waiting for them to take those fences away, to take this scar away.”
But behind Lac-Mégantic’s burned-out centre, there’s been a renaissance: trendy strip malls echo the modern stylings of the Centre Sportif Mégantic, a wooden walkway was built and decorated with art commissioned from Montreal, a new parking lot was built adjacent Ground Zero — ostensibly for tourists to park and get a good view of the damage.
“C’est très à la mode, but it doesn’t resemble us at all,” Sophie Bilodeau, who moved to Lac-Mégantic less than a month before the derailment, says with a sarcastic laugh. “And it says something that not a single one of our elected officials [responsible for the redesign] came to stand with us today; not one.”
And despite the bustle that surrounds it, the pile of dirt has barely moved.
Serge Liard, who lives a block away from the town's old centre, says residents are gripped with feelings of powerlessness. The loose regulations surrounding the transport of dangerous goods also worries him. “I was anticipating [an accident] would happen,” he says, “and I’m anticipating that it can happen again.”
Editor's Note: Corrects a typo in a previous version of this story, specifying it was 5.5 million litres of crude oil that was spilledReport Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: