Hon. Serge Joyal:
Honourable senators, on the evening of April 15, a catastrophic fire destroyed much of the venerable Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
I was there, standing just a few hundred metres away. For hours, I watched aghast as the blaze consumed the immense oak frame that had held up the cathedral’s lead roof for more than 850 years. The fire spread with terrifying speed.
Soon the flames were licking at the soaring 60-metre spire over the transept. In just a few minutes, that elegant structure, one of the most iconic landmarks of central Paris, was engulfed in flames. Then, in the blink of an eye, the burning spire collapsed, crashing through the vaulted ceiling of Notre-Dame, into the choir and nave, and sending millions of red-hot embers flying through the interior of the cathedral. The inferno swiftly spread to the great north tower, which blazed forth like a lantern in the gathering dusk.
Words cannot describe the anguish you feel in the face of such a tragedy, when there is nothing you can do or try that would stop the senseless destruction. Centuries of history went up in flames before our eyes. It was like seeing a vision of the apocalypse, when the fires of hell will consume the earth and not one stone will be left upon another.
Notre-Dame de Paris is a part of our universal heritage. Its destruction is a loss for all of humanity.
We share our deepest sadness with our French friends and assure them of our entire support for the rebuilding and restoration of Notre Dame.
What could we learn from this tragedy? We should be mindful that, in the past, several major fires that have destroyed historical buildings happened during restoration work conducted on the premises.
Let us consider the restoration work that has been initiated this year in the Centre Block of Parliament. Fires in buildings under restoration in the past have happened as a result of carelessness and the lack of an efficient prevention plan.
The Subcommittee of Internal Economy of the Senate – ably chaired by our colleague, Senator Scott Tannas — tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the restoration of Centre Block, should immediately ask for a report from Public Works to make an in-depth review of the measures taken to prevent such an accident over the next ten years or more as the restoration will be conducted.
We should remember, honourable senator, that a fire on February 3, 1916, completely destroyed the original Centre Block building erected 50 years earlier in 1866. We should do everything we can to implement strict security measures during the decade-long construction phase in that building to ensure that we have done our utmost to prevent a tragedy of the magnitude of Notre Dame in Centre Block. We cannot do anything less.