On Remembrance Day, 1950, the Leduc Hotel was gutted by an explosion and fire. Ten people died, including the 12-year-old daughter of the hotel owner, and several oil workers. The cause of the explosion was a gas leak. My great uncle Herman Frederick Weidman (married to Annie Schalin) was waiting in the cafe across the street for the hotel bar to open. He married into a devout German Baptist family so what he was doing going to a bar remains an undocumented mystery.
Flying bricks from the firery explosion damaged his car.
|Aftermath of the explosion; photograph courtesy of the Provincial |
Archives of Alberta
10 DIE AS BLAST, FIRE RIP AT HOTEL
Leduc, Alta., Nov. 13 -- (CP) -- The fire-blackened ruins of the pioneer Leduc hotel -- death trap of 10 persons in an explosion which destroyed the building Saturday -- symbolize the blackest day in the history of the oil-boom town of 2,000 population. It might have been a red-letter day in the town's history had it not been for the explosion -- the worst hotel disaster in Alberta's history. Leduc, 21 miles south of Edmonton, was to have been serviced with natural gas Saturday. The two-story brick and frame hotel was ripped asunder by a blast heard 17 miles away shortly before noon Saturday, just as Leduc residents returned from Remembrance Day ceremonies. The hotel beverage room was to have opened in five minutes, and within 15 minutes it would have been filled. Had the explosion occurred then, residents fear the death toll might have been closer to 100.
The explosion was believed caused by gas seeping into the hotel basement from an undetermined source. Estimates of damage ranged from $100,000 to $300,000. R.C.M.P., Alberta government officials and gas company officials are investigating. Sixteen persons were sent to hospital. Seven have since been released. Extensive damage was suffered by buildings close by, and five motor vehicles parked nearby were virtually demolished. The 10 dead, most badly burned and some identified only by personal effects, were removed from the hotel wreckage by frantic rescue workers who did not turn over the last bit of rubble until Sunday night. One of the victims remains unidentified. The other nine killed were:
- MRS. NORMAN MILLER, Athabaska, Alta., a waitress in the hotel coffee shop.
- ORYSIA MEGLEY, 12-year-old daughter of the hotel owner.
- Two hotel beverage room employees, STEVE FENNIAK and EMIL ABAL.
- Oil drillers ALLAN J. POWELL, 30 and ART MANNVILLE, 52, both of High River, Alta.
- ELMER BAIRD, 36, Edmonton, a public works employee.
- BILL BROHMAN and FRED KINCAID of Leduc.
The blast caught most of its victims on the lower floors, where they were trapped or maimed by falling wreckage before fire cut off escape. A few persons were hurled to safety as the building buckled. Others jumped out of windows. Some clambered to safety through a maze of bricks and splintered wood.
One of the many residents who rushed to the aid of the trapped was railroad worker JOE MERAK, father-in-law of STEVE FENNIAK.
"It was terrible," he said. "As I rushed to the building all I could here were screams, screams, screams. I helped one man out. He had a broken arm and was in terrible pain. There was one girl we could not help. I saw a woman on her hands and knees trying to crawl out. She too was screaming. But we couldn't help her. She was too far inside the wreckage and before we could get to her she disappeared."
BOB DOYLE, 27-year-old oil worker from Winnipeg and Vancouver, escaped violent death for the third time when the blast hurled him clear of the hotel. He had been sleeping in his room. DOYLE said he walked away from two plane wrecks in the last war. CLUNESS EVANS, who operated a garage about six blocks away, said he discovered gas leaking into the garage from the service line about five minutes before the hotel explosion. He was seeking gas company officials when the hotel blast rocked the town.
Witnesses said the blast hurled the roof of the brick and frame structure 20 feet in the air and drove out all the walls. As the roof crashed down, the top floor collapsed on the ground storey. The blast and the screams of the injured brought volunteers rushing from all parts of town. Sixteen injured were released from the twisted wreckage of beams, pipes, bedsprings and other furniture before flames swept the block, driving rescuers back.
Emergency calls to Edmonton brought two fire trucks, six ambulances and three carloads of R.C.M.P. to the scene. Some of the injured were placed in private cars to go to hospital in Edmonton.
Firemen poured water on the molten, steaming mass for more than two hours before the body of the first victim could be recovered. When darkness fell, only three victims had been found. Floodlights were rigged and derrick equipped oil trucks were brought into use to haul away the debris. Directing operations from a pile of smoking rubble in the basement was JOHN MEGLEY, co-owner of the hotel, who had lost one child, his home and business in the blast. The temperature dropped to five degrees above zero as bulldozers were brought into use to clear the rubble before it was caught in the grip of ice.
Positive identification of victims was difficult. A ring, a bracelet, the shred of a waiter's canvas coat, the color of hair or an unusual dental fitting provided the clues.