4:30 a.m., May 15)
Ceremony marks 50th anniversary of Villa St-Louis disaster
By Fred Sherwin
Laura Barbeau was a 24-year-old student nurse when a CF-100 fighter crashed into
the former Villa St-Louis in Orléans on May 15, 1956, killing 15 people
including the plane's two man crew. Fred Sherwin/Photo
50 years since a CF-100 fighter jet dropped out of the sky and slammed into the
old Villa St-Louis convent and rest home, starting a fire that would claim the
lives of 11 sisters of the Grey Nuns of the Cross, a cook and a navy chaplain.
Sunday, a large crowd gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic event
in front of a memorial behind the present day Residence Saint-Louis long term
care facility which was built on the same site as the old Villa in Convent Glen
focal point of the memorial is a 20 foot cross adorned with a jet. At its base
are 15 stones recovered from the rubble and a plaque with the names of the victims
on it, including the pilot and the navigator of the ill-fated plane.
those gathered to commemorate the event was Sister Laura Barbeau who would have
been in the Villa St-Louis when the tragedy happened if not for a simple twist
Barbeau was a 24-year-old student nurse at the Ottawa General Hoispital which
at that time was on Bruyere Street in Lowertown.
May 15, 1956 she an 16 other student nurses were supposed to go to the Villa for
a two week vacation. Instead they remained in Ottawa for an extra night to watch
a play that was being put on by students from the La Salle Academy.
that same night just after 10 p.m., the Sisters were awakened by the Mother Superior
and told to rush to the hospital. A terrible accident had happened.
midnight the first survivors started to arrive.
tried to comfort the sisters and take care of them as best we could. It's still
very vivid in my mind," said Sister Barbeau.
wasn't until a few days later that the student nurses learned that the rooms they
were supposed to stay in were at the centre of where the plane had crashed.
would have all died. It was Divine Providence that saved us. It wasn't our time,"
said Sister Barbeau.
the exact cause of the crash was never determined, it is widely believed that
an oxygen failure caused the crew to pass out.
while Divine Providence may have saved Sister Barbeau and her fellow student nurses,
it also played a hand in the plane hitting the Villa instead of falling into the
nearby Ottawa River or the hundreds of acres of empty farmland that surrounded
the building at the time.
year old Theresa Gravel was among the first people who rushed to the Villa when
the plane exploded in a ball of fire. Memories of what she wtinessed that night
remain with her to this day.
still carry it with me," said Gravel who is a resident of the present day
long term care facility. "It was very sad and very hard to take. I couldn't
do anything to help. There were just too many people."
most vivid memory is of a priest giving last rites to Father Richard Ward on the
front lawn of the Villa as the building was being consumed by flames. Ward was
the chaplain at the rest home and assistant to the Chaplain General of the Royal
other victims were:
Officer Kenneth Thomas, 20
Officer William Schmidt, 26
Aline Lapointe, 40
Jacqueline Dube, 21
Arrore Bussiere, 30
Maria Berube, 58
Marie-Berthe Lajeunesse, 31
Eliane Simard, 27
Valeda Lefebvre, 67
Emilie Hurtubise, 77
Lumena Genest, 71
Marguerite Guenette, 71
Huguette Blais, 25
11 nuns are all buried in unmarked graves at Notre-Dame Cemetary in Ottawa.
commemoration ceremony was organized by three former members of the RCAF -- Ray
Drouin, Bob Clark and Gilbert DesBecquets -- in co-operation with the Sisters
of Charity who run the Residence Saint-Louis and the Orléans Legion.
story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local
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