Many citizens of Windsor will be able to relate to the story in the Windsor Star on October 25, 2005 titled “1960 blast shook city”. It was on this date in 1960 – 45 years ago – that the Metropolitan Store on Ouellette Avenue exploded. More than 100 people were injured and 10 people died when a gas leak was ignited during a furnace repair. The explosion blew out the building’s rear wall and the second floor collapsed, trapping employees and customers, many of whom had been sitting earlier at the lunch counter. Hundreds of rescuers, many of them volunteers, scrambled through the rubble searching for the wounded and the dead.
Firefighter Jack Scratch was painting his brother-in-law’s house at Pierre and Shepherd when the explosion occurred. He heard the sirens: “Everything in the city was going, it seemed to me.” He recalls. He called into Dispatch to see what was going on and was told to report for duty.
Jack reported to the senior officer – Chief Villa Bezaire who was on scene and in the thick of things. Police were inside the building, too. Firefighters had to support the back end of the store since the main floor had blown right out into the alley. There was glass everywhere and many of the injured were across the street at the time of the explosion and injured by flying glass. There were 10 people killed in the accident, mostly seniors who had been sitting at the counter in the cafeteria. The scene was quite a gory mess for the firefighters who had to extricate the bodies. Two firefighters were holding on to a young girl who was stuck down in a hole in the floor trapped by her legs. She bled out before they could rescue her and died in their arms.
There was no fire at all. Crews had been to the store many times because the stoker furnace would fill the store with smoke. The furnace was being changed from coal to gas. The cause of the explosion was a broken gas line coming into the building. The main floor blew out, allowing the upper 2 floors to collapse into the space.
Even though Jack had returned from military service only a few years earlier, he found the death and destruction very difficult. Father Quenneville, the Catholic padre was on scene, giving last rites. Earl Schilliday was the protestant padre and he too was on scene, helping the victims as much as he could.