New memorial recognizes the 21 people who died in a N.B. detention centre fire

Officials in Saint John unveiled a memorial plaque to recognize 21 men killed in a fire at the former Saint John detention centre on June 21, 1977. Tim Roszell/Global News

Police, fire, political officials and family members gathered in Saint John on Monday to unveil a memorial to 21 men who died in a fire at the Saint John detention centre 44 years ago.

The names of all 21 victims were read aloud followed by a moment of silent reflection.

Deanna Chambers, whose brother Robert Lewis “Bobby” Barton died in the blaze, assisted officials in unveiling a memorial plaque to be placed at City Hall, in the vicinity of where the detention centre once stood.

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Chambers said she was seven-and-a-half when her brother died.

“I was very close to my brother,” she said.

She said he played baseball and was a “fantastic hockey player, you couldn’t find any better.”

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“None of them were hardened criminals. He was in there for drinking underage. Kids do it all the time, but as far as I know, he was a good friend and a good brother and a good son.”

Mary MacDonald, who now lives in Nova Scotia, presented the proposal for a memorial plaque to the Saint John Police Commission. It was approved unanimously.

MacDonald was the neighbour of one of the victims. She provided a virtual message for the ceremony.

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“Each name represents a life cut short,” she said. “Some just barely begun, all of which had much living left to do.

“I cannot imagine what the families have endured and the pain this continues to cause.”

Flags at City Hall and Peel Plaza were lowered to half-mast and will do so for each June 21 going forward to honour the victims.

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