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Reopening of Lac-Mégantic bar Musi-Café seen as sign of town’s resurgence

Crews search through the debris near the area where the Musi-Café once stood in downtown Lac Mégantic. A train derailed here on the early morning of July 6, 2013 and caused a massive explosion killing at least thirteen people. Officials say there are at least forty people still missing.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A plan to reopen the Musi-Café, the popular nightspot engulfed by the deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., is being celebrated as a symbol of resilience.

Nearly a month after the tragedy claimed 47 lives, most of whom are believed to have been staff and patrons of the bar, the Musi-Café is set to reopen on Friday in a tent on the northern edge of the Eastern Quebec town.

The man behind the Musi-Café remains haunted by what happened.

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"I couldn't sleep again last night," an exhausted and emotional Yannick Gagné said on Tuesday. "I had nightmares thinking about their faces and what they saw, the wall of fire coming toward them, swallowing downtown. I think about what they felt, what I would have done. I can't stop thinking about it."

Mr. Gagné said the "Musi-Café became a symbol of devastation" when images after the crash revealed only shattered rail cars and ashes where the pub once stood. He now hopes it will represent the restart the town desperately needs.

Most of Lac-Mégantic's bars and restaurants were in the picturesque downtown, which was decimated by explosions after a train belonging to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad jumped its tracks just after 1 a.m. on July 6. In the weeks since, locals with nowhere else to turn have met on their stoops for drinks and conversation.

"I think the community will be happy to find a place to meet and to gather at night," Mayor Collette Roy-Laroche said, a feeling shared by many who say the town has lost its heart.

The municipal government is helping connect the sewers and electrical system to the new bar, both heavy costs that Mr. Gagné, 35, could not afford for the project that will last only two months. Local businesses donated most of the equipment to build the bar, from the tent to the sound system.

"I was happy to help. This is a beautiful project," said Roger Gaudreau, the manager of the local Maxi supermarket. "We need to bring some life back to this town. The tourists are coming, we're full, but there isn't anything to do."

The 150-seat bar will be beside the Maxi parking lot and the town's only shopping centre.

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Every weekend night until the end of September, Quebec singers and bands will take the stage to give free concerts for the locals. Marie-Mai, Louis-Jean Cormier and Vincent Vallières are among those who have signed up.

"These are big names in Quebec. This is my way of helping the people of Mégantic. I can't give them money because I'm also in need, but I will give them all my time and energy," Mr. Gagné said.

The new bar has been Mr. Gagné's project for the last month. He says it is his way to start moving on. He had worked until 12:30 p.m. on the night of the accident. Less than a half hour before the MM&A train derailed, he and his wife headed home. He was less than a kilometre from the site when tankers containing thousands of litres of light crude oil began exploding.

As well as a space for the community, the venue will also provide work for some of the hundreds who lost their jobs because of the disaster. Musi-Café manager Sophie L'Heureux said she hopes to hire 15 people for the summer edition of the bar.

"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," Ms. L'Heureux said.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More

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