Resilient Lac-Megantic bar razed in rail disaster set to reopen in battered town

'We now want it to become a symbol of the resilience of people in the region'

The popular bar recognized as the epicentre of Quebec’s fiery train derailment is set to reopen as a temporary music venue for the rest of the summer.

Many patrons and staff members died inside Lac-Megantic’s bustling Musi-Cafe early on July 6 after a runaway train carrying crude oil crashed nearby and set off huge explosions, killing an estimated 47 people in the town.

“For sure, Musi-Cafe became a symbol of devastation in the tragedy we experienced,” Musi-Cafe owner Yannick Gagne told a news conference Tuesday in the community of 6,000.

“But we now want it to become a symbol of the resilience of people in the region, who will restart it and look forward.”

The resurgent show bar — called Musi-Cafe d’ete — will reopen its doors under a tent this weekend on land loaned adjacent to Lac-Megantic’s Maxi supermarket.

The venue will feature free performances by more than 20 prominent Quebec artists between Aug. 2 and Sept. 15, including acts such as Marie-Mai, Louis-Jean Cormier, Karim Ouellet, Vincent Vallieres and Fred Pellerin.

Gagne, who was thankful for all the assistance, said the venue will once again give locals a place to gather after Lac-Megantic’s downtown area was levelled in the derailment.

The temporary business will also create jobs for those left unemployed, including Musi-Cafe staffers and workers from several other local restaurants and bars shuttered since the disaster.

“Unfortunately, we lost many work colleagues, friends and clients,” said Musi-Cafe manager Sophie L’Heureux, who hopes to hire about 15 people.

“It’s difficult to move on to other things, but we don’t really have a choice other than to roll up our sleeves and have hope for the future.

“So, we’ve decided to dedicate the Musi-Cafe d’ete to those who were lost in this Musi-Cafe tragedy.”

Immediately after the blast, locals knew Musi-Cafe was the place where many of their missing neighbours were likely seen for the last time.

Witnesses have recalled how dozens of people were at the pub early in the wee hours of July 6, right up until the train screeched off the nearby railroad tracks.

The crash immediately triggered a massive explosion that launched a wall of fire toward the building, a blaze that made headlines around the world.

One patron said the ground began to shake. Maxime Picard, 29, said he ran out of the building and, in the rush to stay alive, he never managed to reach his car.

“When I got out of the bar, I really felt the heat and I just ran, ran… 100 metres,” Picard said the day after the derailment.

“I looked behind me and I saw my car in flames…

“A couple of seconds later I didn’t see my car. The flames came in the middle of the downtown… It was crazy.”

People had flocked to the Musi-Cafe in the hours before the accident, drawn there by the beautiful summer weekend night, a pair of well-known musical acts and at least two birthday parties.

Gagne said while the new bar won’t have the same decor as before the tragedy, he expects it to have a warm atmosphere for people in the battered town.

“Clients will reconnect with people they knew who worked downtown,” he said. “That’s what I believe will make the ambience.”