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Monique Cornett has been on assignment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, over the last week.  Photo:  Brian Mann
Monique Cornett has been on assignment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, over the last week. Photo: Brian Mann

NCPR intern finds memory and grief just outside Lac-Megantic disaster zone

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Our Adirondack bureau chief Brian Mann has been reporting in Lac-Mégantic Quebec over the last week on the one-year anniversary of that town's terrible train derailment that left 47 people dead.

Joining him on this trip has been Monique Cornett, one of NCPR's interns, part of our effort to bring new, young journalists into public broadcasting.

Cornett, from Potsdam, is a 21-year-old student at Oswego and is spending the summer working with NCPR.

While on assignment with Brian, she found a new shop on the town's main street that's helping the community remember and celebrate what was lost in last July's disaster.

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The Numera photo gallery in Lac-Mégantic that captured images of parts of the town now lost forever.  Photo:  Monique Cornett
The Numera photo gallery in Lac-Mégantic that captured images of parts of the town now lost forever. Photo: Monique Cornett
Claude Grenier is talking to customers in his photo gallery. I stumble across his shop just outside the old downtown in Lac-Mégantic my first night here.

I’ve come for the one-year anniversary of the oil train explosion that killed 47 people, leaving most of the downtown in rubble, much of it contaminated with oil and heavy metal. Grenier’s galley is covered from floor to ceiling with photos of Lac-Mégantic before the tragedy.

They're reliving a little bit of the past. The way it was before, the way we liked it.
Looking at the photographs, I wish there would be more nights at the Musi-Café so I could stop by—or listen to another band play at the gazebo at Parc des Vétérans on a Thursday night.

On this day, the small gallery is buzzing with customers buying tee-shirts and calendars. Many stop to look at the framed photographs of Lac-Mégantic to reminisce and point at their favorite place to spend time.

The old Musi-Café where thirty victims died—a coffee shop and night club that was the heart and night-life of old downtown. Or Parc des Vétérans, down by the lake for families to relax and enjoy weekly live music. These places are all fond memories for local families.

Mélanie Nadeau has lived in Lac-Méganic for eight years.She started working for Grenier at his studio just two weeks ago to help prepare for the one-year commemoration. She says the artwork that fills the town’s public space and galleries like Grenier’s is a way for peopleto grieve together—and express how this tragedy affected them.

Lac-Mégantic's old downtown that is closed to residents. Photo: Monique Cornett
Lac-Mégantic's old downtown that is closed to residents. Photo: Monique Cornett
Mélanie Nadeau says "they’re reliving a little bit of the past. The way it was before, the way we liked it."

It seems like every person here knew someone who did not make it out of the plumes of fire and smoke that night. It’s hard for me to understand what it does to a community that is grieving as a whole, where a tragedy seems to affect everyone. Nadeau tells me her neighbor lost a son.

Artwork in Lac-Mégantic's Sainte-Agnès church displays written notes to those killed by the train car explosion. Photo: Monique Cornett
Artwork in Lac-Mégantic's Sainte-Agnès church displays written notes to those killed by the train car explosion. Photo: Monique Cornett
Nadeau remembers "we went out that morning and she was crying and we hugged."

Nadeau talks quietly. She takes a moment to find the words she is looking for. She does not like the fact this disaster reshaped her community in such an intense way.

She says "It was something that I wish I wouldn’t have lived, but you don’t have a choice about that."

Lac-Megantic is fighting to press forward despite the destruction of their town, but Nadeau says that people will still come by the gallery to see the photographs, and hold onto some parts that have been lost.

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