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Documentary photographer is the 1st victim identified by police in the Old Montreal fire

Documentary photographer is the 1st victim identified by police in the Old Montreal fire

Camille Maheux, a 76-year-old woman who was the first victim to be recovered from the Old Montreal building ravaged by last week’s fire, was a photographer whose work is part of the National Gallery of Canada’s collection.

Maheux’s identity was confirmed by Montreal police Insp. David Shane Wednesday afternoon on Place D’Youville, outside the three-storey, 15-unit building.

Her body was recovered Sunday in a complex search to comb through the building’s rubble with the help of a crane. Five more people are still missing and nine others were taken to hospital, two of whom suffered serious injuries.

A friend and colleague of Maheux, Marik Boudreau, said in an email Wednesday that Maheux had lived in the building for more than 30 years.

She said Maheux was born in Saint-Georges in the Beauce region south of Quebec City and that she had studied cinematography at the Institut Supérieur des Arts, an arts college in Belgium.

“She was a documentary photographer, an excellent portraitist and a pioneer of intimate documentaries. She primarily photographed the women’s movement, LGBTQ communities and marginalized people starting in the early 1970s,” wrote Boudreau.

Maheux’s work was exhibited across Canada, Europe and in Brazil, where she was based on and off in the 1980s, Boudreau said. Maheux even hosted a program on Brazilian music on CIBL, a francophone community radio station in Montreal.

The National Gallery of Canada’s website lists 61 of Maheux’s photographs in its collection, with names like Scènes de la rue, Montreal, Québec and Femme au bras tatoué.

Three of her short films are available to watch on Vithèque, the streaming platform for Vidéographe, a Montreal-based center for artists. one of them, deux, is part of a series on femininity, art and couples. Made in 1984, it takes place in an artist’s loft and features poet Geneviève Letarte and is also listed as part of the National Gallery’s collection.

“She was known and recognized by her colleagues,” Boudreau said.

To a once next-door neighbor, Buster Fraum, Maheux was a colorful and warm character who would respect him with stories of his worldly life and career.

“Camille was really, really eccentric in the most delightful of ways,” said Fraum, who lived there on two separate occasions between July 2020 and August 2021.

Maheux would sometimes knock on his door in the middle of the night if she’d heard he was awake.

“It didn’t matter if you answered in a daze in your underwear,” Fraum said, Maheux would whisk him to her dimly lit loft, where she would show him art and various objects, flinging them at him as she explained the story behind each treasure.

“And she’s doing this, perfectly natural to her. She was really, really giving and really thinking. She was such an awesome soul,” Fraum said.

a man holds a white rose
Michel Béliveau met Camille Maheux, the first victim identified by police in the Old Montreal fire, in 2006. (Matt D’Amours/CBC)

Sunday, Michel Béliveau visited the building to bring a single white rose for Maheux. Inside the flower’s packaging was a photo he’d taken of her at her loft in 2006.

Béliveau said he met Maheux that year at the Gingras-Lindsay rehabilitation center in Montreal, after he happened to have been hit by a fire truck. Maheux was there after a surgery to his hip or knee, he believed.

They became friends because Béliveau used to play piano at the center and Maheux later invited him to her Old Montreal loft because of his love of architecture.

“I remember that all the stairs inside were made of wood — all everywhere was wood,” he said. Béliveau said Maheux had a set of evacuation stairs outside one of her windows on the second floor, and he had noticed there weren’t any on the other side of the building.

“I don’t know if she had a chance to get out because they said on the news people didn’t hear any fire alarms go off,” he said. “It’s so sad. I’m devastated.”

Firefighters search building.
Police have confirmed the identity of the first victim found inside the Old Montreal building on Place D’Youville as 76-year-old Camille Maheux. (Charles Contant/CBC/Radio-Canada )

Insp. Shane of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) said Maheux’s identity was confirmed by Quebec coroner Géhane Kamel and that Maheux’s family was advised of her death before police made it public.

“We wish to express our most sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of Ms. Maheux,” Shane said. “Our hearts go out to you.”

Searchers working from bucket cranes

A second body was recovered at about 5:45 pm on Tuesday evening, according to the SPVM, which said the remains were transferred to a laboratory for identification.

Pathologists are still working to identify the second victim, while a team of searchers are looking for other victims.

They are currently operating from the bucket of a crane, using polishers and cameras, because the floors are too unstable to step on. The work also involves removing debris and even entire parts of the structure, such as a chimney, in order to pursue the search, Shane said.

WATCH | Drone footage shows an aerial view of Old Montreal building ravaged by fire:

Aerial video shows the aftermath of the deadly fire in Old Montreal

Drone footage shows an aerial view of the fire that ravaged a historic building in Old Montreal.

The search team is using information from investigators and building plans to identify the likely locations of other victims.

“As we progress through the fire scene, we’ll be able to use more and more tools to get to the lower floors that are under all the cave-ins you’ve seen,” Shane said, adding wind and weather are factors that can affect how effective the crane is.

“There are all kinds of factors that are taken into account in planning each and every day.”