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On Friday 13 July 2018, a roof fire caused significant damage to the McIntyre Medical Building at McGill University. While the effects of the fire were far-reaching, the impact upon the Osler Library of the History of Medicine was arguably the most prominent. This article recounts the immediate response to the fire, assessments of the damage, and the monumental recovery effort that allowed the library to resume services – albeit in another location– within weeks. While summarising plans to restore the library to its location in the McIntyre Medical Building, the article also reflects upon the deeper meaning of Sir William Osler’s library and suggests that a catastrophe can beturned into an opportunity for positive change.
The McIntyre fire
On 13 July 2018, a fire broke out on the rooftop terrace that sat atop the Osler Library extension of the McIntyre Medical Building, McGill University. It was one of so many improbable instances one hears about: a catastrophic result brought about by the careless disposal of a cigarette (see figure 1). At the time the fire occurred, the Osler Library was in the midst of planning several events to commemorate the centenary of Sir William Osler’s death, on 29 December 2019. Although the exigency of the situation disrupted that process and all other operations at the library, the feelings that surpass all others are of gratitude and relief.
Before the fire was out, a dedicated and knowledgeable team had been mobilised. The first responders from the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal (SIM) were aware of the value of the library and took steps to safeguard its collections from within the building as soon as it was safe to do so. As the roof was destroyed and its drains failed, water …
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