Today, Parliament marks the 100th anniversary of the great fire of February 3, 1916, which ravaged most of the original Centre Block.
On that night, as the new deputy speaker, Edgar Nelson Rhodes of Nova Scotia, was in the Chair presiding over the House for the first time, a fire broke out in the Commons Reading Room.
The fire grew to a raging blaze that would claim seven lives: Mr. Bowman Brown Law, MP, representative of the county of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Mr. J.B.R. Laplante, Assistant Clerk, House of Commons; Mrs. Mabel Morin and Mrs. Florence Bray, who were guests of the Speaker of the House, Albert Sévigny; Mr. Randolph Fanning of the Post Office Department; Mr. Alphonse Desjardins of the Public Works Department and his nephew, also Mr. Alphonse Desjardins of the Dominion Police Force. We are honoured that descendants of some of those individuals are here with us in the gallery today.
The next morning, most of the Centre Block was nothing but smoking ruins. Only the library and the northwest wing of the building were spared.
Were it not for the quick thinking of librarian Michael Connolly MacCormac, credited for closing the Library's iron doors, this beautiful space and its thousands of irreplaceable books would have also been lost.
The House of Commons mace was destroyed in the fire, and when the first sitting of the House following the fire took place on February 4, 1916, at 3:00 p.m. in the Victoria Memorial Museum, now home to the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Senate loaned its mace to the House.
For the next three weeks, the mace belonging to the Ontario Legislature was used until a temporary mace made of wood was fashioned. That wooden mace was preserved and is being used in the chamber today, as it has been since 1977 every February 3rd.
The wooden mace will then be displayed in the House of Commons foyer. It serves as a tangible reminder of the great fire of 1916 and bears witness to the history of the Parliament of Canada.
I invite all hon. members to join me and our honoured guests after question period in room 216 North, where the Curator of the House of Commons will provide a historical review of the great fire.