One year after the roof came crashing down, dozens of people who were inside Elliot Lake's doomed mall are haunted by close calls, fateful decisions and countless 'what-ifs'



Her wedding was four weeks away, and Sherri Watson still needed a pair of shoes to match the dress. Zellers was her next stop. Jason Morrissey, her fiancé, was behind the wheel that Saturday afternoon, steering his Jeep Grand Cherokee toward the only mall in Elliot Lake, Ont.—and up the concrete ramp that led to its now-infamous rooftop parking lot. The weather was gorgeous, blue sky and sunny. Jason, 32, was dressed in shorts and a ball cap. His bride-to-be wore flip-flops.

Their Jeep parked, the couple walked toward the Algo Centre’s main upper entrance, a pair of brown metal doors on the roof. Neither knew it, but an outdoor security camera recorded their every step. “I was busy talking about the wedding,” says Sherri, 33 at the time. As the camera’s digital clock approached 2:18 p.m., the pair disappeared inside the doors.

Seconds later, the video camera still rolling, a grey Ford Focus drove past the same entrance and away from the mall. As forensic engineers would later conclude, that single passing car was “the last straw” for the Algo Centre’s notoriously leaky roof. Thirty-plus years of salt, slush and rain had so thoroughly corroded the building’s steel skeleton—and one welded connection in particular—that the weight of a small vehicle was enough to bring down the deck.

Eight more seconds was all it could hold.

Inside the doors, Jason and Sherri were halfway down a set of stairs that led to a second-floor lottery kiosk and a food court. (To their left, parallel to the staircase, was an escalator going back up to the roof.) Sherri and her flip-flops was one step ahead, still talking about the wedding, when Jason felt the rumble. “My husband saved my life,” she says. “I had debris hit my head and my leg, and I didn’t even know what was happening. If he didn’t grab me and pull me back when he did, I would have gone down with everything.”


Climax of crucial exhibit reveals why, and how, the roof caved in.

Back outside, the same surveillance camera captured the split-second horror: thousands of pounds of steel and concrete—and one parked Ford Explorer—crashing into the mall below. When that weld let go, at precisely 2:18 p.m., two women were standing directly underneath that portion of the roof, just down the stairs: 37-year-old Lucie Aylwin, herself a bride-to-be, working weekends at the lottery kiosk to save money for her wedding; and Doloris Perizzolo, 74, a loving mother and grieving widow who visited that mall almost every day. Neither survived.

At last count, that chilling surveillance footage has been viewed more than 65,000 times. Posted on YouTube, it is the climax of a crucial exhibit at the Elliot Lake public inquiry: an animated re-enactment, prepared by investigating engineers, that explains exactly why, and how, the roof caved in. Knowing the end result, it is heartbreaking to watch.

Jason and Sherri, survivors by the slimmest of margins, first saw the footage when it was posted online in March, nine months after the collapse. Until then, they had no idea they were caught on tape. “It’s not easy to deal with, but I’m grateful to my husband, because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here,” Sherri, now a Morrissey, tells Maclean’s. “I saw the mall actually collapse. I mean, it was right in front of my face.”

What happened on June 23, 2012—one year ago this week—was a disaster three decades in the making, the culmination of so many dubious decisions and shoddy patch jobs that the public inquiry has only begun to unravel the ugly truth. In the weeks to come, Commissioner Paul Bélanger will also hear dramatic evidence about the ensuing rescue effort, and why it took four days (and some political intervention) to finally reach those two women buried in the rubble. Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s premier at the time, is among those scheduled to testify.

But as the proceedings inch along, witness after witness, lawyer after lawyer, it is easy to forget how utterly devastating that moment was for so many. The security footage doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

Like the Morrisseys, dozens of others were steps from the lottery booth when the clock struck 2:18. Their eyewitness accounts—as told to Maclean’s, and detailed in police statements filed at the public inquiry—paint a chaotic, terrifying scene. The bang. The dust. The stale, stinky water. The what-ifs. There were so many close calls, so many twists of fate, it’s a miracle more bodies weren’t pulled from the wreckage.


A bride-to-be and a grieving widow

Deloris Perizzolo

Lucie Aylwin, 37

Deloris Perizzolo

Doloris Perizzolo, 74

One woman, Michelle Arnott, was working right beside Lucie Aylwin that entire day. Just three minutes before the cave-in, she walked downstairs to the mall’s other lottery booth so the woman working there, Rachel Rivet, could take her afternoon break. Interviewed by police, Arnott said she now battles post-traumatic stress disorder, including a newfound fear of noises and large crowds. It’s “not real that this has happened,” the 34-year-old, born and raised in Elliot Lake, told investigators. “It’s going to take a long time to get over this.”

Louisette Rognvaldson, sitting with friends, was about to walk to the kiosk to buy a scratch ticket. “Then I checked my purse,” she recalls. “I didn’t have any money so I thought: ‘Oh well.’ As soon as I thought that in my head, bang, that was it. I will never forget that.” The force of the implosion knocked the 66-year-old out of her chair. “Our purses were floating, and everyone was yelling: ‘Grab the purses! Grab the purses!’ That’s how much water came down: not to our knees, but pretty close.”

It is easy to forget how utterly devastating that moment was for so many. The security footage doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

John Marceau had no intention of sitting in the food court. He was working outside that day, repairing some siding on his house, when he drove to the mall in the hopes of finding his friend, a carpenter. He didn’t find him, but another friend convinced the 79-year-old to stay for a coffee. “I just put the cup on the table and was getting ready to sit down,” says Marceau, a retired miner with pale blue eyes and a wide grin. “When I woke up, I was lying beside a table that was knocked over. I was bleeding like hell.”

In a nearby elevator, steps from the collapse zone, were Janet Black and her mother-in-law, Shirley. Visitors from Peterborough, Ont., they happened to be in town for a relative’s memorial service, their first-ever trip to Elliot Lake. They chose that day, that moment, to walk into the Algo Centre. “The doors opened on the second floor, and as soon as the doors opened, all this stuff just flew right into the elevator,” says Janet, then 58. “There was dust flying everywhere.” She pushed Shirley back and peeked out the door. The floor was gone. “Even telling you now, I’ve got goosebumps all over me. It was scary. It was very scary.”

The man behind the wheel of that passing Ford Focus (the so-called “last straw”) had just left the food court a few minutes earlier. He had no clue his car triggered the collapse until someone showed him the exhibit video. Contacted by Maclean’s, the 69-year-old declined to be interviewed. “He went to the mall every afternoon,” a relative says. “He said: ‘Oh my God, I was shaking. I don’t know why I was spared.’ ”

So many are haunted by the same thought.


'All of a sudden, I see the sky.'



Opened in 1980, the Algo Centre was built on a foundation of high hopes and false assumptions. The uranium mines west of Sudbury were booming (yet again) and, by all estimates, Elliot Lake’s population was set to soar to 30,000 people. Maybe 40,000. All those well-paid newcomers would need a shopping centre. When the bold predictions failed to pan out—and every mine eventually closed—the giant mall remained, a painful, oversized reminder of what should have been.

But the Algo Centre wasn’t just a symbolic disaster. Constructed without a waterproofing membrane, the rooftop parking lot (itself a questionable idea, especially in snowy northern Ontario) leaked from day one, eating away, bit by bit, at the steel I-beams holding the deck in place. The building was such a lemon, such a monumental miscalculation, that by 1991—just 11 years after the grand opening—the company that built it considered locking the doors and abandoning the property. “I see no magic,” wrote the vice-president of finance for Algoma Central Corporation, based in nearby Sault Ste. Marie. “The question is: What does the future hold for Elliot Lake?”

The future, it turned out, was senior citizens. When the mining companies left, the one-time “uranium capital of the world” successfully rebranded itself as a retirement community, marketing all those empty houses and vacant apartments to pensioners looking for a picturesque, inexpensive place to live out their golden years. At the centre of the new recruitment campaign was Elliot Lake Retirement Living, a not-for-profit organization that ended up buying the mall, and the attached hotel, in 1999. Built to service a vibrant boomtown, the mall was now a central part of the city’s sales pitch to seniors. Drips and all.

Retirement Living owned the Algo Centre for six years, and on its watch, the steel connections continued to deteriorate. The city’s only library, down the hall from the second-floor lottery kiosk, was such a soggy mess that employees had no choice but to cover certain bookshelves with tarps. On some rainy days, the leaks were so intense the library may as well have been outside. “As I sit at my computer to write this letter, I am listening to the drips in the ceiling, wondering when the ceiling tile will fall on my head,” wrote chief librarian Barbara Fazekas, in one of many letters of complaint to Richard Kennealy, Retirement Living’s general manager. In another stunning email to colleagues, one city councillor was even more blunt: “The thing that I am really worried about is the possibility of the roof caving in, with cars parked up there.”


Words of warning that went ignored.

Bob Nazarian, a real estate investor from Richmond Hill, Ont., bought the shopping mall in the summer of 2005. By then, the damage was essentially done. Even if he had patched the leaks (which he claimed to be doing, but never actually did), so much water and road salt had already seeped into the steel structure that a catastrophic failure was inevitable. No one—not the city, not the provincial labour ministry, and not an independent engineering firm hired to inspect the mall 10 weeks before the collapse—realized how dangerous those rusty beams had become.

Sadly, evidence presented at the inquiry suggests the mall’s very existence was so important to Elliot Lake—a major employer, a major taxpayer and a major piece of the “retirement living” strategy—that the economy trumped public safety, again and again.

The mall’s decrepit condition was a running punch line. ‘Algo Falls,’ as the locals dubbed it. Many were convinced a collapse was a matter of when, not if.

Yet all around town, the mall’s decrepit condition was a running punch line. “Algo Falls,” as the locals dubbed it. Many of the same people who snacked in the food court and shopped at Zellers were convinced that a collapse was a matter of when, not if. Some had bets going. Throughout the second floor, garden hoses dangled from above, draining gallons of water from plastic yellow “bladders” pinned to the ceiling. For maintenance staff, emptying pails was all part of the job.

Like so many others, Lucie Aylwin earned her living among the buckets. A lifelong Elliot Laker, she was stationed in the mall as an employment counsellor for Collège Boréal, helping countless people find steady work. In a city of 11,000, where faces are familiar, hers was especially so. Recently engaged, Aylwin had taken on a second job of her own, working the odd Saturday at the lottery booth.

On June 22, the day before the collapse, Aylwin sat in the food court, drinking her morning tea (large, double cream). Marie Giroux, a friend who also worked in the Algo Centre, joined her at the table. As Giroux later told police, they talked about the sad state of the mall, a “common conversation.”

At the lottery kiosk a few steps away, Gary Sauvé finished his regular delivery of magazines to the booth. He noticed two buckets on the counter, each one full of water.

The next morning, June 23, Aylwin ate breakfast with her fiancé, Gary Gendron, and kissed him goodbye. She took a white purse to work, her lime-green wallet tucked inside. Her husband-to-be never saw her again.


Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow Rust, tarp & roof slideshow

Ten weeks before the collapse, Robert Wood of M.R. Wright and Associates, a now-defunct engineering firm in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., inspected the Algo Centre. Among the photos he snapped that day was a shot of the elaborate drip tarp system dangling from the Zellers ceiling. In his subsequent report to the mall’s owner, Wood said the steel beams below the parking deck were “still structurally sound.”

Elliot Lake’s only public library, just down the hall from the mall’s second-floor lottery kiosk, endured such relentless leaks for so many years that staff had no choice but to cover certain bookshelves with tarps. One city councillor was so concerned about the damage that she wrote an email to colleagues in 2006: “The thing that I am really worried about is the possibility of the roof caving in with cars parked up there.”

Before it was Mum’s Place, Heather’s Richer’s restaurant was the Starlight Café and Grill, owned by Anne Marie Letarte. By Christmas 2007, the leaks were so pervasive that one of the yellow “diapers” in the ceiling—filled to the brim with water—crashed down like an avalanche, soaking her kitchen and forcing her to close. “People weren’t coming because they needed an umbrella,” Letarte says.

The view from behind the front counter of The Starlight Café (later Mum’s Place). Hungry Jack’s was on the other side of the Algo Centre food court, a short walk from the staircase leading down from the rooftop parking lot.

Staff at Dollarama, another store beset by leaks, used a large blue bin—propped up by a wooden plank—to collect the drips coming through the parking deck.

Barbara Fazekas, Elliot Lake’s chief librarian, wrote numerous letters of complaint to both the city and to Retirement Living, the not-for-profit organization that owned the mall between 1999 and 2005. “As I sit at my computer to write this letter, I am listening to the drips in the ceiling wondering when the ceiling tile will fall on my head.”

Zellers, one of the mall’s anchor tenants, was constantly chasing leaks. Less than three weeks before the collapse, one employee emailed the provincial ministry of labour, requesting an inspection. “We have water leaks in the roof so bad that the lights in some areas kicked off,” Robert Comeau wrote. “Could someone help us as I feel my health and my fellow workers [sic] health is on the line.”

A year before the roof came down, two icicle-shaped chunks of concrete fell from the ceiling at Hungry Jack’s restaurant. The owners, Jack and Elaine Quinte, complained to Al Collett, Elliot Lake’s deputy mayor. He passed their concerns to Bruce Ewald, the city’s chief building official. “What do you want me to do, Al?” Ewald asked. “Close down the mall?”

Thirty-two years after the Algo Centre was built, the steel beams that held up the mall’s outdoor balcony were heavily corroded.

After the collapse, the Ontario Provincial Police hired NORR Ltd., a respected engineering firm, to investigate the precise cause of the failure. Their final report was a damning indictment of their fellow engineers—from the man who stamped the original structural design of the doomed structure to the many inspectors who failed to recognize how dangerously unstable the building had become.

During their post-collapse inspection, the NORR engineers found “severe to very severe” corrosion in nearly half the locations they examined. As they concluded in their report, the obvious signs of decay “went unnoticed or grossly underreported” in the years before the cave-in.

“Steel corrosion went unnoticed or underestimated by most consultants who inspected the mall,” the NORR report says. “By approximately 2005 corrosion would have already been severe and should have been reported amply.”

Over the course of three decades, so much water and road salt had seeped into the steel skeleton that the ensuing corrosion resembled a “marine-like environment.” As NORR concluded: “The choice of placing a parking deck on top of a public mall was an unfortunate one.”

The NORR report recommends creating guidelines to help engineers identify and assess the extent of steel corrosion in buildings. But the report also concedes that the Algo Centre collapse was tragically unique. “In digging into the literature,” it says, “one is hard pressed to find a similar example where a carbon-steel framed building in North America or Europe continued to corrode to the point of failure.” 

Police seized this segment of a steel beam, which ran directly over the second-floor lottery kiosk. The welded connection that fastened the steel angle (circled) to a vertical column is what ultimately failed that Saturday afternoon. As the NORR engineers concluded: “The evidence of this is overwhelming.”

At the heart of the collapse was a rusty steel beam that ran above the lottery booth. Both ends of the horizontal beam were bolted to steel connectors, which were then welded to structural columns protruding from the floor. Decades of water damage had so corroded the weld on one particular connection that it couldn’t hold any longer. Until June 23, 2012, the beam on the right was welded to the column on the left.

The NORR engineers discovered that a wide range of materials was used over the years to try to repair portions of the parking lot. “All attempts to deal with the leakage issue were localized and ineffective,” they concluded.



From high above, the Algo Centre looked like a backwards capital L. Both main entrances (one on the roof, one on the ground) were located in the mouth of that L, where the two lines met. For decades, shoppers strolled in and out of those doors, carrying groceries and socks and diamond engagement rings. It was that particular section of the mall—the mouth of the L, from rooftop to second floor to ground level—that was doomed to crumble.

Rachel Rivet, now 54, worked at the downstairs lottery booth, right inside the ground-floor entrance. Unofficially, Rivet was the Algo Centre’s official greeter. “I was the first face people saw when they walked in the main door,” she says. “So a lot of people knew me, but they didn’t know my name.”

Rivet’s booth was tucked underneath the escalator that went up to the food court. Behind her—directly below Lucie Aylwin’s second-floor kiosk—were two other businesses: the lobby of the Algo Inn, the mall’s adjacent hotel; and Eddie’s Barbershop, a plaza staple for 16 years.

Stanley Ceglarz, a Polish immigrant, bought the barbershop in 1996. His typical weekend hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Except in the summertime, when he closed at 2 o’clock and went home early.

Before her shift that Saturday morning, Rachel Rivet was upstairs at Mum’s Place, one of two restaurants in the second-floor food court. Heather Richer, the owner, had been toiling near the stove since 5 a.m., as usual, baking and preparing soups (chicken dumpling was her specialty). “She made the mall smell delicious in the morning,” says Richer’s younger sister, Tracy Bérubé, who also worked at Mum’s. “I know she wanted it to be a reflection of what came out of my mother’s kitchen.”

Rivet, a close friend of Bérubé’s, spent all her breaks at Mum’s. “Rachel always came up to the restaurant,” Bérubé recalls. “She would say, ‘Shall we check the barbecue?’ which meant, ‘Should we go outside for a cigarette?’”

Although its main counter overlooked the food court, Mum’s Place also boasted a 44-seat dining room. A fire exit led to an outdoor concrete walkway, which wrapped around one side of the mall like a balcony. As they smoked their cigarettes, the morning sky clear and bright, the ladies spotted a large bird hovering above. Rivet thought it was an eagle; Bérubé, one year later, is still convinced it was a buzzard. “It was just circling and circling,” she recalls, waving her right arm around and around. “I said: ‘It’s like a buzzard flying over a desert, and it’s creepy because it only flies over death or when death is near.’”

Rivet snapped a photo with her cellphone, but by that point the bird was too far away to identify. “I just know it was very strange, very eerie,” Rivet says. “It bothered me the whole morning. It was just so surreal.”

Bérubé didn’t end up staying at the restaurant that day. Instead, she and two other sisters embarked on a last-minute road trip to Sault Ste. Marie, taking her two hours away from the chaos to come. In hindsight, that sudden change of plans probably saved Rachel Rivet’s life, too.

Hungry Jack’s was the other restaurant in the food court. (There used to be a Tim Hortons, too, but it moved out of the mall because the leaks were so bad.) Elaine Quinte, who owned the eatery with her husband Jack, came to work that morning in a pair of blue jeans and a black shirt, with “Hungry Jack’s” written in red. She parked her Pontiac Grand Prix on the roof. “I think people knew there was a really good chance that something would happen one day,” she says. “But I don’t think anybody ever thought it would happen on June 23, 2012.”

A year earlier, Quinte arrived at work to find two slices of concrete lying on the floor. Thankfully, the pieces had plummeted from the ceiling overnight, when nobody was there. Both fragments looked like icicles, one as long as a baseball bat.

Upset, and rightfully so, the Quintes showed the damage to mall management. They did nothing. Jack and Elaine also voiced their concerns to Al Collett, Elliot Lake’s deputy mayor, who alerted Bruce Ewald, the city’s chief building official. “What do you want me to do, Al?” Ewald asked. “Close down the mall?”

Elaine and Jack Quinte

Jack and Elaine Quinte

For a Saturday, the Algo Centre was not particularly busy. The weather was way too beautiful to be indoors. But people did come, especially the regulars. If they walked through the ground-floor entrance, they would have seen Rachel Rivet at the main kiosk. (“Daily’s 1,” as it was called.) If they descended from the rooftop parking lot—as Jason and Sherri were about to do—they would have looked straight at the second-floor kiosk (“Daily’s 2”), right at Lucie Aylwin and Michelle Arnott.

Rosario Capillo, a long-time Elliot Lake resident and former city councillor, was in the food court that morning, drinking coffee with friends. He had known Aylwin for years; in the winters, she parked one of her cars in his garage. When he went to buy his Saturday 6/49 ticket, Capillo was surprised to see her standing behind the counter. “I said, ‘Lucie, what are you doing in here?’ ” he recalls. “She said: ‘Oh Rosario, I’m working in here because I’m getting married and I want to make a little extra money to buy a nice wedding dress.’ ”

Capillo told Aylwin to sell him the winning ticket—“Of course, Rosario,” she laughed—and he left the mall at 11 a.m. The beam above them was less than four hours from crashing down.

Kreations & Things, directly behind Aylwin’s booth, was a new addition to the mall, opened just five months earlier. It specialized in sterling silver and custom jewellery made from semi-precious stones. Yves Bérubé, who owned the shop with his wife, is Tracy’s brother-in-law. “The night before we moved in, we had a rainstorm,” he recalls. “So we get there the next day, getting ready to go in, and the front windows and the front door looks like Niagara Falls. It looked like one of those water features that people pay big money for.” As usual, maintenance workers “fixed” the problem by installing a tarp and a hose under the ceiling tiles and diverting the water to a pail outside the store.

Bérubé, 49, worked alone that Saturday. As always, he wore a suit and tie. He can’t remember which one, as hard as he tries.

Out his door, turning left, was the entrance to a narrow hallway leading to an elevator, which went from the hotel lobby to the second floor to another door near the parking deck. In the mall’s final few years, when escalators were typically broken for weeks at a time, that elevator was the only way for many elderly shoppers to reach the second-floor food court. It was a busy place.


The centre of a community

Mall Overhead

When it was first built, the Algo Centre mall was described as a “crowning achievement” for Elliot Lake.

Food Court

The second-floor lottery booth was steps from the mall food court. The Bargain Shop, down the hall, is visible on the left.


Dollarama, with its yellow and green sign, overlooked the food court. It, too, was plagued by relentless leaks. In one section of the ceiling, propped up by a plank of wood, a large blue laundry bin collected the drips.

Next door, at the end of the hall, was The Bargain Shop’s red sign. Adam Amyotte, the store’s manager, had moved to Elliot Lake the year before, and was still a bit spooked by all the leaks and vibrations. “If a car passed over us, the whole floor shook,” he says. “Even if a heavier-set person would walk, you could feel their steps. It was really weird.”

When he first arrived in town, Amyotte’s new co-worker, Teresa Perizzolo, was just coming back. Her father, Giuseppe, had died of cancer in May 2011, and she took some time off to support her grieving mother, Doloris, now a widow after four decades with the man she loved.

A food-court regular, Doloris dropped by the mall all the time, an excuse to get out of her house and mingle with friends. Once, when Amyotte needed to rush home in the middle of a shift, the 74-year-old offered her car, no questions asked. “She didn’t even think twice about it,” he says. “She threw me the keys and said, ‘Go home.’ ” That Christmas, Doloris brought her beloved Pomeranian, Maggie, to visit Santa Claus in the mall, making sure to stop in The Bargain Shop to show off her dog’s holiday outfit.

On June 15, 2012, just eight days before the roof caved in, Doloris Perizzolo cashed in a $1,000 “Money Multiplier” scratch ticket. “Everybody has dubbed her ‘the ticket lady,’ ” Amyotte says, referring to countless news reports about the collapse. “Yes, she liked to play scratch tickets and Nevadas, but there was so much more to her than just that.” She was a proud mother and doting grandmother. A long-time cook at the local hospital, whose own kitchen always smelled like fresh pastries. A wife who took care of her dying husband until there was nothing more she could do. A senior citizen with a famous deadpan wit.

The day before she died, Doloris Perizzolo went to The Bargain Shop to meet Amyotte’s new baby boy. “She had a pretty wicked sense of humour on her for an older lady,” he says, smiling at the memory. “She said, ‘Good thing he looks like his mom and not his dad. But the one nice thing is he has his dad’s bum.’ ”

‘People knew there was a really good chance something would happen one day. But I don’t think anybody ever thought it would happen June 23, 2012.’



At Mum’s Place, the staff had an escape plan: If the roof comes down, head straight for the walk-in freezer. Each employee knew the drill, and they all took it seriously. “Every time the snowplows were up there, every one of my dishes was rattling,” says Richer, the owner. “We always knew that, one day, that roof was going to fall in. I had a big titanium freezer, and that was the plan.”


Click on the names highlighted in red to pinpoint where each person was at the time of the collapse.

Sarah Ball, 23, had worked at Mum’s since the day it opened in 2009. It was a small-town family restaurant, the kind of place where waitresses knew their customers’ names and hugged them before they left. The regulars didn’t need menus to order their breakfast. “I still, to this day, know half the town’s coffee orders,” Ball says. Stationed behind the front counter, her regular post, Sarah Ball was nearly eight months pregnant.

Judy Robinson, a fellow waitress, was in charge of the dining room. The floor was black and white, checkered like a victory flag; maroon paint covered the walls. When it rained outside, drenching the roof, customers had to dodge multiple buckets to reach their seats. “I think we were all scared in our own way,” Robinson says now. “Absolutely.”

The previous Saturday, June 16, was Robinson’s wedding day. Heather Richer closed the restaurant so everyone could attend the ceremony, and as the 45-year-old walked down the aisle, a nervous wreck, she noticed all the girls wearing giant silver novelty glasses—a playful poke at her famously bad vision. “I had a hard time wiping the tables down at the restaurant,” she laughs. “That was the big joke, because I was supposed to go for surgery on my eyes.”

By June 23, seven days after the wedding, those novelty glasses were all over Facebook. So many of Judy’s friends—including Lucie Aylwin—had clicked on the photos.

Jean-Marc Hayward took the bus to the mall that afternoon, arriving just before 2 o’clock. Originally from Saint John, N.B., the 43-year-old first visited Elliot Lake when he was playing on The Canadian Half Pints, a basketball team of dwarfs that toured the country and lectured students about bullying. He moved to the city full-time in 2007. “There was another little guy that was born and raised here; he was also on the team, and that was one of the reasons why we came,” Hayward says. “I don’t know, there was something about this town I like. It was a unique town.”

He bought his coffee from Mum’s (double cream, one sugar) and found an empty table in the middle of the food court. His chair faced the door to Dollarama; the lottery booth was to his left. “The first thing I noticed was: ‘Wow, for a Saturday, there’s not too many people here.’ ”

Stanley Ceglarz was one floor down, locking his barbershop. June 23 was just his second Saturday on summer hours, and the 55-year-old was heading home. Ceglarz didn’t know it yet, but he saved his own life.

Like Hayward, Ann Power was sitting alone in the food court. Retired from Eaton’s, the 84-year-old moved north from Toronto a decade ago after reading a magazine article about Elliot Lake. She rode the bus to the Algo Centre every day. “They were letting it run down to nothing,” she says of the mall. “It was disgusting.” More than once, she felt the entire place “shiver.”

Gerard Joseph, 74, parked his Ford Explorer on the roof, just a few steps from the upper entrance. After a stop at Zellers, he and his friend, Lynn Clapperton, ventured to the food court, where they met up with two of Clapperton’s relatives, including her son, Yves Audet. Clapperton, also 74, had a pacemaker. Joseph needed an oxygen machine to breathe.


'The customers would come in and they’d hug you.'

On Saturdays, Louisette Rognvaldson usually met the same gang for an afternoon coffee. There were eight of them, enough to pull two tables together. “We would joke, ‘One of these days, a car is going to come through,’ ” she says. “We said it jokingly. Deep down, I guess we never thought it would.” Joining her, among others, were Douglas and Mary Catherine MacEwen, who moved north in 1999 and walked to the mall nearly every day. Mary Catherine had her back to the looming collapse zone. Her husband looked right at it.

John Marceau, in search of his carpenter, steered his pickup truck to the Algo Centre, pulling into the ground-level parking lot at approximately 2:10 p.m. He walked through the main entrance, right past Rachel Rivet, and up to the second floor. Near the food court, Marceau bumped into Doloris Perizzolo, an old friend. She had just gotten her hair done at a salon across the street.

Marceau used to work the mines with Giuseppe Perizzolo, and in their younger years they four-wheeled and snowmobiled together. When Giuseppe was sick, he visited his friend at home. “She took good care of her husband,” Marceau says. As they chatted, he asked Doloris how she was coping; by then, her husband had been gone for 13 months. “I’m getting better and better,” she replied.

It was one of the last conversations she ever had.

At Mum’s Place, a pregnant Sarah Ball was having another one of her cravings. She wanted licorice. Judy Robinson, her co-worker, walked to Dollarama to find her some. Sarah Nielsen and her friend, Josh Marshall, both 17, were already inside the store, browsing the aisles and killing time. Marshall picked up a small electric fan, one of those battery-operated models that fits in your hand. “He said: ‘Hey, check out this fan,’ ” Nielsen recalls. “We were looking at this stupid fan.”

Back downstairs, Janet and Shirley Black arrived at the main doors. Their relative’s memorial service was over, and while their husbands opted to go back to their hotel near the entrance to town, the ladies decided to visit the mall. Shirley, fresh off knee surgery, leaned on her cane as she walked through the ground-floor entrance. “The escalator going up was broken,” Janet says. “I went back to the lottery desk to ask where the elevator was.”

As she approached the first-floor kiosk, Janet watched as Michelle Arnott relieved Rachel Rivet for her afternoon break—a seemingly insignificant event that, without a doubt, saved Arnott’s life.

“Michelle was always late,” Rivet says. “I’d always tease her about that.” Sometimes, Rivet even had to phone the upstairs kiosk to remind her colleague to come down. But that afternoon, Arnott left the second-floor booth at exactly 2:15 p.m.—three minutes before the collapse. Lucie Aylwin was now alone behind the upstairs counter.

Typically, Rivet would head to Mum’s Place and, as always, ask Tracy Bérubé “to check the barbecue.” But with her friend in Sault Ste. Marie, Rivet walked toward a different exit: the loading-bay door at the back of the Algo Inn lobby. “I never go back there for a cigarette because it’s where the garbages are,” Rivet says. “I thank God. My guardian angel must have been looking out for me.”

It was 2:17 p.m.

Shirley Black, still standing by the broken escalator, asked another shopper if the mall had an elevator. The stranger pointed her in the direction of the hotel lobby. “All of a sudden, my mother-in-law yelled at me: ‘Janet, I found where the elevator is,’ ” she says. “We walked into the elevator and I pressed the button for the second floor.”

John Marceau didn’t find his carpenter in the food court, but he did find Agostino Tocco, another long-time friend. Dressed in black pants and a royal blue golf shirt, Tocco went to the Algo Centre every day, sometimes twice a day. In his thick Italian accent, he convinced Marceau to stay for a coffee. He even bought it for him (one cream, one sugar).

On her way to pick up licorice, Judy Robinson stopped at the lottery kiosk to talk to her friend. “It was pretty quiet at the booth,” she recalls. “Lucie said to me, ‘What is with those pictures?’ And I knew what pictures she was talking about because that was the big talk.” Laughing, Robinson started to explain the story behind the big wedding glasses.

‘It was like a mini-earthquake, and then a great big bang. You look over and everything is gone.’

Up on the roof, Jason and Sherri Morrissey walked toward the brown doors, the surveillance camera rolling.

Behind Lucie’s kiosk, Yves Bérubé hung a sign on the door of his jewellery store: “Back in 10 minutes.” “It wasn’t overly busy, so I decided I was going to go out for a smoke break,” he says. A Next cigarette in one hand, a lighter in the other, he walked toward a side door near the food court, passing right underneath the beam that was about to fail.

Inside Dollarama, Marshall and Nielsen headed to the checkout to pay for that portable fan. “For some strange reason, I just looked at it and was like: ‘I don’t want this anymore,’ ” he recalls. “We turned around and walked all the way back to put it back.”

Up above, the Ford Focus drove by. The last straw.

At the kiosk, Judy finished telling Lucie about the glasses. “I’d better let you go,” she said, turning toward Dollarama.

At The Bargain Shop, Adam Amyotte had just finished counting the cash intake from the night before; his plan was to visit a bank across the street and make a deposit. As he exited the store, he could see Lucie Aylwin in the distance, handing Doloris Perizzolo her Nevada tickets.

Janet and Shirley Black were in the elevator, going up.

John Marceau put his cup on the table and pulled out a chair.

Louisette Rognvaldson checked her purse.

Rachel Rivet, outside the hotel service door, lit her cigarette.

Heather Richer and Sarah Ball served a familiar couple at the restaurant counter.

Adam Amyotte, approaching the kiosk, looked over at Mum’s Place and nodded at the girls.

The Morrisseys walked down the stairs, Sherri still talking about the wedding.

2:18 p.m.

“I remember hearing a rumbling sound and looking to my left,” says Jean-Marc Hayward, nearly finished his coffee. “It was almost like slow motion, watching this big slab of concrete coming down.”

“It was like a mini-earthquake, and then a great big bang,” Richer says. “You look over and everything is gone.”

Sarah Ball, standing beside her, watched it fall. Like dominoes, she says. “I remember not being surprised; that’s the biggest thing,” she recalls. “Even as it was happening, it was almost immediately: ‘Okay, freezer.’ ”


Split-second horror caught on camera

Jason and Sherri Morrissey walked into the mall less than 30 seconds before the collapse.

A passing Ford Focus was "the last straw" for the mall’s notoriously leaky parking lot.


2:18 P.M.

It may have felt like slow motion, but there was absolutely no time to react. The whole thing was over in a second. Two, at the most.

A rectangular chunk of the roof—12 m by 24 m—rained down on the upstairs lottery booth and punched another massive hole through the floor below. Eddie’s Barbershop, locked up minutes earlier, was now a jagged mound of concrete. Next door, the entrance to the hotel lobby was blocked with fallen debris, floor to ceiling.

Janet and Shirley Black had walked under that exact spot seconds earlier, heading from the first-floor kiosk to the elevator. So did Rachel Rivet, now standing outside the loading-bay doors. “I didn’t even get a chance to put the lighter in my pocket,” says Rivet, who had just sparked her cigarette. “I heard a rumble and the door flew open. It was almost like a scene from The Twilight Zone.”

Megan Batten, a front-desk supervisor, was working in the hotel lobby. At first, she thought someone tossed a shopping cart down the escalator. When she realized the terrifying truth, she sprinted toward the back door.

On the other side of the enormous pile, Lynda Benson stood beside the ground-floor kiosk, covered in dust as thick as soup. Sixty-five at the time, Benson and her husband had moved to town just eight weeks earlier, but until that Saturday afternoon she had yet to visit the local mall. When the clock struck 2:18 p.m., she was buying a batch of Nevada tickets, handing a $10 bill to Michelle Arnott. “It’s a noise like none other,” Benson says. “It’s not something you can describe with one word. I just looked at her and she looked at me, our hands kind of suspended in the air. I had the money; she had the tickets.”

A gust of air whipped open the main doors. Arnott—in the crosshairs of the looming collapse only three minutes earlier—ducked and covered her head, then bolted outside. The floor was soaked with water, deep enough to touch her ankles. Her skin felt like it was burning. As she later told police, “everybody did voice concern” that the mall would fall down one day, but “we didn’t really take it serious.” Arnott herself parked on the roof that morning, never thinking twice.

“There was dirt and dust; you couldn’t see,” Benson says. Dazed, and still standing by the first-floor kiosk, she remembers a man yelling at her: “Lady, get the f--k out of there!” “I didn’t really know where I was, and somebody grabbed my arm and pulled me out the door. I have no idea how I got to my car, got in my car, and drove home.”

Two floors up, on the staircase leading down from the roof, Jason Morrissey dragged his fiancée to higher ground. They escaped, barely, through the same door they entered, careful not to trip into the rectangular pit that wasn’t there when they arrived. The outdoor security camera continued to record. “I didn’t even know I was bleeding, but my leg was gushing blood,” Sherri recalls. “My knee, front and back, foot, everything, was covered in blood.” Jason pulled off his T-shirt and wrapped it around her injured right leg, then grabbed her cellphone to dial 911—one of many frantic calls about to fill the emergency switchboard.

On the other side of the yawning hole, directly opposite the mall’s rooftop entrance, was another door leading to the third floor of the hotel. Jason noticed two young boys trying to exit to the parking lot—oblivious to the fact that there was nothing left to step on if they came outside. “He was freaking on those kids, telling them to stop,” Sherri recalls. “He’s in a lot of the pictures. He’s the guy with no shirt, pointing.” Amid the chaos, one memory bothers Sherri Morrissey more than anything: two women on the parking deck, laughing hysterically. She still can’t fathom how anyone thought it was funny.

Her fiancé peered down the hole. He could hear voices calling for help. A thick, rusty beam—the one that let go—dangled from one end, like a tree branch in the breeze. At the top of the rubble, surrounded by hunks of cement, was Gerard Joseph’s 2010 Ford Explorer.

Joseph, sitting near the edge of the food court, was thrown from his chair and pelted with debris. His friend, Lynn Clapperton, had just bought some scratch tickets and was about to sit down when the SUV—the same one that brought her to the mall—fell through the ceiling. Her son, Yves Audet, was tossed toward another table, landing nearly 15 feet away. According to a written statement filed at the inquiry, Audet “heard a loud rumble, saw ceiling tiles beginning to fall and started to yell out to warn people that the roof was collapsing. Before he could finish his sentence, he was hit with water and debris.”

For Claude Morisset—and so many others—it happened way too fast to comprehend. Seventy-four at the time, Morisset spent his career in construction, working for the mining firms when they were still booming. He was sitting near the staircase leading down from the roof, watching as his wife, Therese, returned to their table. She was carrying a Bingo ticket. “She didn’t even scratch it yet when the damn thing came down,” Claude says. “I saw the sky, and then I looked at her. It knocked her on the floor and she was covered with rubble up to her neck.”

“Stop it!” Therese screamed. “Stop it!”

Morisset—a survivor of four heart attacks and one open-heart surgery—somehow managed to dig her free. “I can’t give you all the details, but I still have the picture in my head and it keeps coming back,” he says. “It was a horrific thing, I’ll tell you.”

Behind the Morissets, a little farther from the stairs, Ann Power’s coffee spilled on her lap. The 84-year-old jumped out of her seat, choking on the cloud of dust that overwhelmed the food court. “I’m looking at the sky,” she remembers. “It was unbelievable. There was so much dust, and I was so confused, I didn’t know which way to get out.” At her feet, shattered ceiling tiles floated in filthy sludge.

“All the dirty water that had been up above for 30 years came down on us,” says Louisette Rognvaldson, sitting at that table of eight, close to Dollarama. “It was so powerful, I fell on my knees. My sister swallowed some. Another guy had water in his eyes.” Her friend, Mary Catherine MacEwen, told police “it was like Niagara Falls opened up.” MacEwen’s husband, knocked backward by the blast, said the water was “black.”

Agostino Tocco thought a bomb went off. Chatting with John Marceau and another friend, the 68-year-old retired miner was struck on the head, right shoulder and right knee. “I just missed getting killed,” he says. Tocco lost his glasses, but is fairly certain he stayed conscious.

His old friend was not so fortunate. “It was a big, sharp bang,” Marceau remembers. “One noise, that’s all I heard.” Heavy fragments smashed into his head, knocking him at least five feet from the table. “I passed out. When I woke up, nobody was there. All the dust was settled.” His face was dripping blood. Two of his left ribs were broken.

Inside Hungry Jack’s, owner Elaine Quinte heard the deafening crack. As her restaurant filled with water and dust, she tried to dart out of the way; she told police she still isn’t sure if she ran into a wall or was hit by debris. Her cashier, Stephanie Murray, sprinted out the back door.

At Mum’s Place, Sarah Ball fled—as planned—into the walk-in freezer. Alone inside, she could hear cries coming from the food court. The 23-year-old held her pregnant belly, fearing the worst. “I remember standing in the freezer,” Ball says, her voice cracking. Even now, a year later, that particular memory is too difficult to share. “But we made it,” she finally says.

Heather Richer was behind the Mum’s counter, watching Judy Robinson, her other waitress, walk from the kiosk to Dollarama in search of licorice. “I was looking at Judy and then, all of a sudden, I don’t see Judy anymore,” she remembers. “But I don’t see the ticket booth, either. One minute it’s there, the next minute it’s gone.”

“I turned, and I got about three or four steps away,” says Judy, tears in her eyes. “It was like a freight train coming.” She started to run, but the force of the collapse slammed her to the ground. “I thought everybody was gone,” she says. “All you could hear were screams.”

If she had spoken to Lucie a few seconds longer, Robinson’s new husband—married just the week before—would be a widower.

‘It was like a freight train coming. I thought everybody was gone. All you could hear were screams.’

Amazingly, Jean-Marc Hayward wasn’t hit with a single slice of debris. He chose the right table. “It took a while to sink in, you know?” he says. ‘Wow, what just happened?’ The whole area was just filled with dust. It was so thick.” Hayward ran as fast as he could, heading to the side door of Hungry Jack’s. He will never forget hearing Tocco’s Italian accent behind him: “Hurry up, Jean! Hurry up!”

Hayward made it outside, to the same concrete walkway where, a few hours earlier, Tracy and Rachel saw that bird circling overhead. Yves Bérubé, out for a cigarette break, had just reached the same balcony when the clock struck 2:18 p.m. “I didn’t even have a chance to light my lighter and—boom!—directly behind me,” he says. “It all fell in. If I had stopped to say hi to somebody, I would have been in the hole.”

Bérubé’s first instinct was to race back inside. He stopped near the bottom of the second-floor staircase—now littered with concrete slabs, and dangling over the pile like a slide into a swimming pool. “I looked up and I’m seeing the sky,” he says. “It was something out of a movie, it really was.” The front of his store, on the other side of the hole, was completely sheared off. His “Back in 10 minutes” sign was among the rubble.

A few steps from Bérubé’s store, Daniel Spooner and Kasey St. George had been sitting in the mall’s photo booth. After posing for a set of shots, Spooner—one day shy of his 25th birthday—started walking toward the kiosk to make change for another shoot. St. George, his girlfriend, called him to come back because the machine wasn’t working. He was walking away when the roof smashed down beside him.

Spooner covered his head with his arms, but he was pelted with enough chunks to require 10 stitches. His back, legs and forearms were badly scratched and bruised. “It was like a dream,” St. George says. Spooner told police he picked himself up, looked down into the hole and saw Joseph’s Ford Explorer. The noise, he said, was “similar to building demolitions featured on television shows.”

Inside Dollarama, Josh Marshall put his fan back on the shelf. “It felt like someone just hit you in the ears,” he says, describing the noise. “I know it was a couple of seconds, but it felt really long. I felt the entire mall was going to collapse on my head.”

“People were screaming,” recalls his friend, Sarah Nielsen. “ ‘There’s no way out! There’s no way out!’ ”

Margrit Pulkowski, Dollarama’s assistant manager, was working at till 4, mere metres from the edge of the collapse zone. When Judy Robinson left the kiosk, she was heading straight toward her. It was “a ripping and wrenching sound,” Pulkowski told investigators. She froze, locking eyes with another cashier. Moments later, when she dialed 911 on her cellphone, Pulkowski’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“We were going up in the elevator and all of a sudden, this big thundering crash happened,” says Janet Black, the visitor from Peterborough. “My mother-in-law looked at me and said, ‘What is going on, Janet?’ ” When the door opened on the second floor, dust engulfed the elevator. “The scene reminded me of the twin towers with all the twisted metal,” she says. “It’s just chilling.”

Janet pushed the button to go back down, but the elevator went up instead.

Heather Richer—up to her ankles in rancid water—was doing her best to direct traffic. Sarah Ball, who didn’t stay in the freezer for long, followed her boss’s lead, helping dazed and dirty patrons out to the back of Mum’s dining room. “Just the faces on them, I will never forget,” Ball says. “Stone-cold faces.”

Many in the food court, including a soaking-wet Louisette Rognvaldson, escaped through Mum’s Place. “I would have been there,” she says, thinking about Lucie’s kiosk. “I was just getting up to get a scratch ticket, but I didn’t have any money to go.”

The elevator carrying Janet and Shirley Black stopped on the third floor of the hotel. Two other women—strangers they never saw again—climbed on with them, riding it back down to the lobby. “You’re not supposed to be on elevators when there’s a power outage or anything like that,” Janet says. “But I just figured it was the safest place.” She was right. They got off on the bottom floor and turned right, scurrying to safety out the same back door where Rachel Rivet was standing at 2:18 p.m.

Shoved to the floor as she walked away from Lucie’s booth, Judy Robinson injured both her elbows. But like the rest of her Mum’s Place colleagues, she didn’t flee the scene. She stayed in the mall to make sure others got out. “Judy screamed at me: ‘Yves, come over here!’ ” says Yves Bérubé, who was also scouring the food court for victims. When he ran toward Judy’s voice, he saw John Marceau, severely gashed and bruised. He was the worst of the wounded.

“He kept going in and out of consciousness,” Robinson says. “There was blood everywhere.” Richer grabbed every napkin she could find, trying to stop the bleeding. “Thirty seconds,” she says, “seemed like hours and hours.”


Eyewitness accounts of the collapse

Standing safely on the balcony outside the restaurant, Jean-Marc Hayward reached for a cellphone that wasn’t there. Amid the bedlam, he had left it on his table. Hayward’s teenage daughter was at the beach that afternoon, but he was desperate to call her, just to make sure she hadn’t changed her mind and come to the mall. He darted back inside to retrieve his phone. “I’m looking at this hole,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” Somehow, his cellphone was still on the table. He dusted it off and recorded 42 seconds of video, a clip destined to go viral. By then, the Algo Centre food court was nearly empty, except for the small crowd tending to John Marceau.

“We got him out through the ramp doors—through the same doors I had gone out,” says Yves Bérubé. “We brought a chair out there and sat him in the chair. I looked over the railing and I saw the fire department.”

At the back of the hotel, Janet Black left her mother-in-law and walked to the other side of the mall, desperate to find her car. People were everywhere, dressed in shorts and sandals and tank tops. “I had my phone on me,” she says. “I thought: ‘Geez, I should take a picture.’ ” Later, when she looked at the photograph, Black was stunned by what she saw: A thin beam of sunlight was shining straight down on the roof, directly over the collapse zone.

Adam Amyotte, The Bargain Shop manager, was among the last to leave the building. After watching his friend Doloris vanish into the rubble, he, too, stayed behind to help others get out. Like the fire exit at Mum’s Place, his back door became an escape route. “We cleared the whole upper level of the mall without having a police officer or a fireman or a paramedic,” he says. “Before they were on site, we had it cleared.”

When the time came, Heather Richer wasn’t quite ready to go. As ludicrous as it sounds, she needed to clean her kitchen first. “I didn’t think it was real,” she says. “I just assumed they’re going to patch it up and we’re going to go to work tomorrow. So I told Judy: ‘We’re not leaving. We’ve got to put everything away.’ I put every single thing away. My baking. My soups. Everything.”

They emptied the coffee pot. They made sure the grill was shut off.

It was their final shift at Mum’s Place.



What unfolded over the next 90 hours captivated—and infuriated—an entire country. From the outside, the dramatic search for survivors appeared slow and disorganized, as specialized rescue workers methodically burrowed their way inside, careful not to trigger a secondary collapse. At one point, the entire operation was abruptly halted because of safety concerns—only to be reignited after a late-night phone call from premier McGuinty (and the eventual arrival of a giant crane trucked in from Toronto).

In a town that never left a miner behind, locals were livid. Some screamed at exhausted firefighters, calling them cowards. By the time emergency crews reached Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo—on Wednesday morning, nearly four full days after the parking deck fell down—there was no miracle to celebrate.

In late July, the Elliot Lake Inquiry will begin to dissect every aspect of the rescue effort, separating fact from fiction. The public will learn how that second-floor staircase—the Morrisseys’ staircase—was so overloaded with concrete it was on the verge of snapping, a catastrophe that could have killed every searcher stationed below. No commander, in good conscience, could ever leave his men in such a vulnerable spot.

The public will also learn the truth about the women who died—and exactly how they lost their lives. Sadly, we already know Doloris Perizzolo was killed on impact, her hand and foot discovered under a slab of concrete by hometown emergency responders who rushed the pile. Whether Lucie Aylwin survived the initial barrage, even for a few hours, has yet to be publicly confirmed by a coroner. It will be.

For those who did survive, the answers to come should provide some level of peace. Some semblance of “closure,” as the cliché goes. But the horror they endured that Saturday afternoon—what they saw, what they heard and how narrowly they cheated death—has forever changed each one, physically and emotionally. “To me, this was a miniature 9/11,” says Judy Robinson, the last friend to speak to Lucie Aylwin. “I will live it till I die.”

One year later, the Algo Centre is now a deserted plot of land. Demolition crews finished what the leaks started, ripping apart all that was left—including Mum’s Place. “The first couple months were really bad,” says Heather Richer, sitting in her backyard, a short walk from her old restaurant. “A couple days after, I was in the shower. For some reason, I had water on the floor and one of my pictures fell off the wall. It was like the mall collapsing again. I freaked and I cried.”

Her former employees, Judy Robinson included, have urged her to reopen the restaurant at a different location. But Richer isn’t ready. She doesn’t think she ever will be.

The Algo Centre is now a deserted plot of land, ripped down by demolition crews. (Panoramic)

The Algo Centre is now a deserted plot of land, ripped down by demolition crews. (Panoramic)

Sarah Ball delivered her baby later that summer, a beautiful little girl. Two weeks later, a construction crew started blasting near her apartment—prep work, ironically enough, for the site of Elliot Lake’s next mall. Ball’s first reaction was to grab her daughter and sprint outside, terrified her building was about to collapse. “Another thing that goes through my head often is: ‘Were there only two people?’ ” she says. “For months after the cave-in, I would find my customers and say: ‘Oh, thank goodness, you’re alive.’ Actually, to this day, I see old regulars that I haven’t seen in a while and say: ‘Okay, you’re off the list.’ I still have this feeling that maybe there could be more.”

Like so many others, Ball also wonders if she should have done more. “We all knew how bad it was,” she says of the mall. “We could have stood outside with picket signs. But that’s not our job. We trust in the inspectors and the owners to let us know if we’re going to die in a building we work in.”

The Quintes, who lost Hungry Jack’s, are the lead plaintiffs in a proposed $30-million class-action lawsuit filed against a long list of defendants, including the city, the province and the mall’s last owner, Bob Nazarian. Elaine Quinte still has trouble talking about the afternoon of June 23. (“I’d rather not,” she tells Maclean’s. “I’m not dealing with it well.”) But their statement of claim mirrors what so many others have experienced: “When she and Jack think of the events of that day, they are sometimes overcome with feelings of anxiety, sadness, grief and guilt.”

Yves Audet—sitting with Gerard Joseph when his SUV plunged through the ceiling—has trouble even leaving his house. He shakes when he enters a building higher than two storeys, and has struggled with bouts of survivor’s guilt. Margrit Pulkowski, working the Dollarama cash register, told police she is suddenly petrified of things that never scared her before. Like pumping gas. She fills up as fast as she can, afraid the station could explode.

“I still think about it when I see the clouds and the blue sky,” says Ann Power, now 85. “It was a really nice day that day.” Still recovering from her injuries, seen and unseen, she now depends on sleeping pills. For Agostino Tocco, the nightmares have been so haunting, so vivid, he sometimes falls out of bed. “I want to say I’m not doing too bad,” the 69-year-old says. “But I’m not 100 per cent.”

After months of counselling, Jean-Marc Hayward is slowly feeling better. “The sound of that slab hitting—that big bang—I could play that over and over in my head,” he says, sitting on the couch in his apartment. “If I think hard enough about it, I can relive it, but it’s not as front of my mind anymore.” Neither is the guilt, irrational as it sounds. “At one point, I thought: ‘Why take somebody like her?’ ” Hayward says, referring to Lucie Aylwin. “In some ways, I felt it should have been me.”

Like Hayward, Lynda Benson has also spoken to a therapist, a service she never dreamed she would need. “Every now and again, I’ll hear a particular noise and I almost feel like I want to be sick,” she says. “My forehead gets wet and sweaty and I think, ‘Don’t be so silly. You’re home. You’re okay.’ ” She hurt her neck and shoulders that day, standing at the first-floor kiosk with Michelle Arnott. But it’s the mental trauma, including sudden fits of crying, that lingers. “It’s really hard to explain, because I’ve always been strong,” she says. “I’m used to looking after everybody else. I don’t really know why this hit me the way it did. I couldn’t tell you.”


On Elizabeth Walk, in plain view of the old mall site, is Yves Bérubé’s new store. He and his wife reopened Kreations & Things on Oct. 1, barely three months after the entrance to his old shop was sheared off. “It was therapeutic for me, in a sense,” he says. “For the most part, I don’t really think about it so much anymore, until somebody brings it up. Then things start to come back again.”

Bérubé can’t help but wonder: What if? What if he had left for his cigarette break a few seconds later? What if his wife had worked with him that day? What if his parents, who spent every Saturday afternoon in the food court, hadn’t decided to go strawberry picking? What if the parking deck had fallen down the following weekend—Canada Day­—during the city’s annual Uranium Festival?

Adam Amyotte has grappled with the same type of questions. His wife was on her way to the mall, with his baby son and stepdaughter. What if they had showed up at 2:17? What if he left for the bank a minute earlier? Would he have stopped at the kiosk to talk to Doloris? “It took a lot of counselling to get to where I am today, because I was in no mental state right after it happened,” the 31-year-old says. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: That day, my life changed. But I learnt a lot about myself also. I didn’t turn around and run away. I stayed there and I helped people, and made sure they got out.”

Claude and Therese Morisset were among those who made it out, but they’ve never been the same. She was hammered with heavy debris, bruising and slicing her right shoulder, arm and hand. He, too, was hit on the right side, just hard enough that he’ll never fully recover. Before the collapse, Claude needed a cane to get around; today, the 75-year-old depends on a walker and an oxygen hose. “I went to the public inquiry the first day, and then I’ve been watching it on the Internet because I’m not too mobile anymore,” he says, sitting in a lawn chair on his front porch. “I was about as close to the hole as you could get, and it’s done me a lot of damage.”

So many sounds remind him of that moment. Snow falling off his roof. A plow driving by the house. “It’s the rumbling noises that throws you into a nightmare,” Morisset says. In one of his worst dreams, he was hanging from the hole, his fingertips barely gripping the edge.

The horror they endured —what they saw, what they heard and how narrowly they cheated death—has forever changed each survivor, physically and emotionally.

“That noise, it stayed in my mind day after day,” says John Marceau, now 80. “As soon as I hear a banging noise, my mind goes right to that mall.” A year later, Marceau looks nothing like the blood-soaked man carried out of the Algo Centre. His broken ribs have healed, and the cuts and bruises on his face have disappeared. And even though he can still hear that atrocious noise in his head, it doesn’t consume him. Some days, the mall doesn’t even pop into his mind. “I don’t sit here and think about it,” he says, swaying back and forth in his living-room rocking chair. “Just like a soldier, try to forget it.”

The Morrisseys have tried to move on, too. Seeing themselves on that surveillance video was a surreal experience, but they don’t obsess about what could have been. “I’m just grateful that we were the only people on the stairs,” Sherri says. “There was nobody else. It was just Jason and I.”

The couple got married, as scheduled, on July 21, four Saturdays after they parked their Jeep on that roof. Sherri bought her wedding shoes at a Wal-Mart in Sudbury, 160 km away.


Beam of light

Moving on, day by day.

Jason Morrissey, 32; and Sherri Morrissey, 33

Jason and Sherri Morrissey

Their wedding four weeks away, the couple went to the Algo Centre to find Sherri a pair of shoes. They parked their Jeep Grand Cherokee on the roof and walked through the upper entrance less than 30 seconds before the collapse. They were walking down a set of stairs, toward the second-floor lottery kiosk, when the roof smashed down on the staircase.


The last straw

Rachel Rivet

Eight seconds before the cave-in, a Ford Focus drove past the rooftop entrance and away from the mall. As forensic engineers would later conclude, that single passing car was "the last straw." Three decades of salt, slush and rain had so badly corroded the building’s steel skeleton—and one welded connection in particular—that the weight of that small vehicle was enough to bring down that portion of the parking deck.


Lucie Aylwin, 37

Rachel Rivet

A bride-to-be, Aylwin had recently taken on a second job, working the odd weekend shift at the mall’s second floor lottery kiosk (Daily’s II). Rescue workers—and the entire country—held out hope that she somehow survived the collapse. By the time rescue workers finally reached her lifeless body, Aylwin had been buried in the rubble for nearly four days.


Doloris Perizzolo, 74

Rachel Rivet

Still grieving the death of her husband 13 months earlier, Perizzolo visited the Algo Centre almost every day. That morning, she got her hair done at a salon across the street. She was buying Nevada tickets from Lucie Aylwin when slabs of concrete plummeted from the roof. She was killed almost instantly.


Judy Robinson, 45

Rachel Rivet

A waitress at Mum’s Place—a restaurant in the food court, directly beside the lottery kiosk—Robinson stopped to talk to Lucie Aylwin at the booth. Seconds after she left, as she walked toward Dollarama, the roof came down. “I thought everybody was gone. All you could hear were screams.”


Margrit Pulkowski, 55

Rachel Rivet

An assistant manager at Dollarama, she was stationed at one of the cash registers, mere meters from where the roof fell down. “Everything was in slow motion,” she told police. She called 911 on her cell phone, her hands shaking.


Sarah Nielsen and Josh Marshall, both 17

Rachel Rivet

The friends were browsing through Dollarama at 2:18 p.m. “It was really loud,” Marshall says. “It felt like someone just hit you right in the ears.” Said Nielsen: “People were screaming: ‘There’s no way out! There’s no way out!’ ”


Yves Bérubé, 49

Rachel Rivet

He and his wife owned a jewellery store, Kreations & Things, but he was working alone that Saturday. As the clock approached 2:18 p.m., he hung a sign on his door: “Back in 10 Minutes.” On his way out for a cigarette, he walked right under the steel beam that was about to fail.


Daniel Spooner and Kasey St. George, both 24

Rachel Rivet

After posing for a set of shots in the mall’s photo booth, Spooner started walking toward the kiosk to make change for another shoot. St. George, his girlfriend, called him to come back because the machine wasn’t working. As he walked away from the kiosk, the roof crashed down. “It was like a dream,” St. George says. Spooner, smacked with debris, needed ten stitches.


Adam Amyotte, 30

Rachel Rivet

The manager of The Bargain Shop, he left the store to make a deposit at a bank across the street. As he walked toward the kiosk, he could see Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo. “Everything happened so fast. I turned back and the roof and the second floor was gone.”


Heather Richer, 49

Rachel Rivet

The owner of Mum’s Place, she was behind the front counter of her restaurant, overlooking the food court. “It was like a mini earthquake. Shaking, banging, gone.” She helped shoppers flee the mall out the back of her dining room.


Sarah Ball, 23

Rachel Rivet

A waitress at Mum’s Place—and nearly eight months pregnant—she was standing at the front counter with Heather Richer when the roof collapsed. “I remember not being surprised. That’s the biggest thing.” She fled into the restaurant’s freezer.


Elaine Quinte, 53

Rachel Rivet

She owned Hungry Jack’s restaurant with her husband, Jack. She was injured in the collapse, but she told police she isn’t sure if she was hit by falling debris or ran into a wall. The Quintes are the lead plaintiffs in a proposed $30-million class-action lawsuit filed against a long list of defendants, including the city, the province and the mall’s final owner.


Jean-Marc Hayward, 43

Rachel Rivet

He took the bus to the Algo Centre, arriving just before 2 p.m. He was sitting alone at a table, drinking his coffee, when everything came down. “I remember hearing a rumbling sound and looking to my left. It was almost like slow motion, watching this big slab of concrete coming down.”


Claude Morisset, 74

Rachel Rivet

Retired from the construction industry, Morisset was sitting with his wife, Therese, near the stairs leading down from the roof. “All of a sudden I see the sky. Seconds later, I see my wife on the floor. She is screaming: ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ ”


Ann Power, 84

Rachel Rivet

She was sitting alone at a table, halfway through her coffee, when she was overwhelmed by the thick dust that engulfed the food court. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m looking at the sky. It was unbelievable.”


John Marceau, 79

Rachel Rivet

Sitting with friends near the edge of the food court, Marceau was the worst of the injured. Debris rained down on his head and face, temporarily knocking him unconscious. “I feel lucky because two feet away, there was nothing there. It was gone.”


Agostino Tocco, 68

Rachel Rivet

A retired miner, Tocco was sitting at Marceau’s table. A year later, he still has nightmares about that afternoon; some are so haunting that he falls out of bed. “I want to say I’m not doing too bad, but I’m not 100 per cent.”


Louisette Rognvaldson, 66

Rachel Rivet

She was sitting in the food court with a group of friends. There were eight of them, enough to pull two tables together. She was about to walk to the kiosk and buy a scratch ticket. “Then I checked my purse. I didn’t have any money so I thought: ‘Oh well.’ As soon as I thought that in my head—bang—that was it.”


Gerard Joseph and Lynn Clapperton, both 74

Rachel Rivet

They drove to the Algo Centre in Joseph’s 2010 Ford Explorer, parking on the roof and stopping at the food court. When everything collapsed, it was Jospeh’s SUV that plummeted into the mall.


Yves Audet

Rachel Rivet

Lynn Clapperton’s son, he was sitting with his mother and Gerard Joseph. According to a statement filed at the public inquiry, Audet “heard a loud rumble, saw ceiling tiles beginning to fall and started to yell out to warn people that the roof was collapsing. Before he could finish his sentence he was hit with water and debris.”


Michelle Arnott, 34

Rachel Rivet

Three minutes before the collapse, she left Lucie Aylwin alone at the second-floor kiosk so Rachel Rivet, working downstairs, could take her afternoon break. She told police she battles with post-traumatic stress disorder and a sudden fear of noises and large crowds. “It’s going to take a long time to get over this,” she told investigators.


Lynda Benson, 65

Rachel Rivet

A new resident of Elliot Lake, she visited the mall for the first time that Saturday. She was buying Nevada tickets from Michelle Arnott at the first-floor lottery booth. “It was a horrific noise, one that is very hard to describe.”


Stanley Ceglarz, 55

Rachel Rivet

The owner of Eddie’s Barbershop, his typical hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. But that Saturday, he worked summer hours, locking the door at 2 o’clock. He left the Algo Centre less than 20 minutes before the collapse.


Megan Batten, 25

Rachel Rivet

A supervisor at the mall’s adjacent hotel, she was working behind the front desk. When she first heard the bang, she thought someone had tossed a shopping cart down the escalator. She sprinted to safety out the back door of the lobby.


Rachel Rivet, 53

Rachel Rivet

Stationed at the ground-floor lottery kiosk, she was relieved for her afternoon break by Michelle Arnott. At 2:18 p.m., she was standing near the loading bay in the back of the hotel, smoking a cigarette. “I thank God. My guardian angel must have been looking out for me.”


Janet Black, 58

Rachel Rivet

Visiting from Peterborough, Janet and her mother-in-law, Shirley Black, went to the mall after attending a relative’s memorial service. It was their first-ever trip to Elliot Lake. They were in the hotel elevator, going up to the second floor, when they felt a “thundering crash.”