Right Hon. L. S. Si. Laurent (Prime
Minister): Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to report briefly to the house on what I have been able to observe in the course of the trip I made last Thursday and Friday to Rimouski and Cabano, where I visited the victims of the disasters which occurred in those two cities of the lower St. Lawrence.
I left Dorval Thursday morning with the Solicitor General (Mr. Lapointe), and Mr. Leopold Langlois, member for Gaspe, who acted as representative for the hon. member for Rimouski, Mr. Gleason Belzile. Brigadier Jean Allard, commanding officer of the Quebec military district, joined our party in Quebec city.
Perfect weather and visibility permitted us to have an aerial view of the damaged sections of the towns of Cabano and Rimouski, before we landed for our visit to these two interesting industrial centres.
After landing at Mont Joli airport, we were met by Brigadier A. Theriault, member of the federal-provincial commission which is to report on both disasters, and then our party proceeded immediately by motorcar to Rimouski.
We paid our first call to the city hall, where we were greeted by Mayor Victor Lepage. We met the members of the municipal council, the members of the relief committee, the civic department heads, the engineers, architects and technicians, all of whom were there on loan from the federal and provincial governments. We were shown the properties which were destroyed on the cadastral survey of the city. The plan would be to try to rebuild the district which was burned down by making a new cadastral survey which would take into account the views of the owners, engineers, surveyors and town-planners who are all working in very close co-operation. One can easily imagine the difficulty of the problem when one knows that the damaged area does not allow all previous owners to rebuild their homes if they are to be separated by sufficient space to prevent another disaster.
From the city hall, we went to visit the damaged area, where we met the superior of the seminary. As you know, half of the building, not being fireproof, was burned down. Then we met the nuns in charge of the hospital where extension works had been in progress. Unfortunately even in the fireproof section, flames spread through and caused damage. There we also saw the nuns in charge of the home for the aged and of the orphanage, both of which have disappeared; we also met the manager of the Price Company, whose mill was destroyed. At this time of the year, the mill employed between 500 to 600 men. Although the company's plans for the future are not yet determined, it is held that it will shortly be able to provide work for a good many workers.
We have seen the ruins of 359 houses, the destruction of which has left over 2,000 persons homeless.
Approximately one-quarter of the town has disappeared in this terrible fire, not to mention the vast area covered by the plant and lumber yards of the Price Company.
The canteen set up in the arena by the relief committee has operated very well and it still serves between 1,200 to 1,500 meals a day. In the committee's warehouses, we have been able to see great quantities of clothing, furniture, building material and goods of all sorts which were sent to the victims by sympathetic and generous people in Canada and the United States.
Toward the end of the afternoon, we called on the Archbishop of Rimouski, who expressed his gratitude for the sympathy shown to the population of his episcopal See.
Friday, we went to Cabano with the hon. member for Temiscouata, Mr. Jean Francois Pouliot. In that town, we were greeted by Mayor Emilien Morin and Rev. Canon Cyr, parish priest.
One hundred and fifty-nine homes were destroyed in Cabano, which left over 1,000 persons homeless. In Rimouski every victim took refuge elsewhere in the city and in surrounding villages; but it could not be so in Cabano, where close to a third of the village was destroyed and many of the victims still live under tents supplied by the army or other divisions of the dominion and provincial governments.
In Cabano, as well as in Rimouski, the army and Red Cross have performed an admirable task, and nothing was spared to save the victims from hunger and want.
The population of both localities is courageous and optimistic. The sympathy and
help which they have received are appreciated.
In both towns there are clever and enterprising administrators and businessmen who show a great deal of initiative. In Cabano, the manager of the Fraser Company, whose plant has not been destroyed, assured us that normal operations would be resumed this very morning.
I have conveyed to every one the sympathy of the people of Canada and in both places I stated, as I had done in this very house, that upon receipt of the report concerning the nature and extent of each of the two disasters the federal government would take a similar stand with respect to assistance as was taken in the case of the Fraser valley disaster in 1948.
The members of the commission of inquiry into the disasters at Rimouski and Cabano are proceeding with diligence and the government has reason to believe that they will report on the results of their investigation in the near future.