Park to be renamed after heroic principal who saved kids in 1907 Montreal fire

An heroic anglophone woman who lived in the early 20th century will have a park in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve renamed in her honour.

Her name was Sarah Maxwell. She was a 31-year-old principal and teacher at a school on Préfontaine Street, just north of Ste-Catherine Street E. near Adam. It was known as Hochelaga School that served the anglophone community working at nearby factories at the time.

On February 26, 1907, a fire broke out and Maxwell started getting kids out of the building. A teacher and some students managed to escape from the second floor but others remained trapped. Maxwell went upstairs and started escorting children over to firefighters on their ladders.

"They tried to grab her and pull her out and they actually said, 'Save yourself, save yourself.' And she said, 'No, there are still children. There are still children.' And maybe ten minutes later, they were all found dead on the second floor of the classroom," said Montreal historian Robert Wilkins.

Maxwell was found dead, her body covering one of the children - one of the 16 kids aged between three and eight who died in the fire.

Some may think it's a quirk of history that Dézery-Lafontaine Park in what is now a predominantly francophone neighbourhood is expected to be renamed after Maxwell. 

"Actually it turns out that they're really looking for more women, more female names for local toponymy," said Wilkins.

Wilkins said renaming the park after Maxwell comes 110 years after officials promised to do something to recognize her heroic actions, with the Atelier d’histoire Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve leading the charge

Wilkins admitted he normally doesn't like it when they change names of public locations but that this is a more than honourable exception that he said is long overdue.