Westmount Arena Fire in 1918 and the National Hockey League

Westmount Arena before the fire as adapted from Arthur Farrell - Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game
Westmount Arena before the fire as published in  Arthur Farrell – Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game

Sports fans are eagerly anticipating the start of the new National Hockey League (NHL) season beginning next month.

I have always loved ice hockey especially its history. Growing up I was fascinated by the statistics, and the growth of ice hockey as a sport. I remember reading about the Westmount Arena, the home of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers. I read vague passages of how a fire destroyed the arena and how the aftermath of the fire nearly collapsed the NHL in its first season. Life moved on for me, science began to preoccupy my passion, and following ice hockey slowly became less of a pressing concern for me.  However, when I began to study fire sciences around 2008, I realized there was a synthesis there. I started to realize why (or at least hypothesize why) the Westmount Arena was destroyed by fire. Naturally I wanted to write about it; history, sports and fire science- bringing all three subjects together – Awesome. So I devoured newspaper articles, old images, old books. As I did this though, I started to learn important skills on how to find information. How to do proper analysis of primary sources, and how to dig deeper into literature. One result was  this paper I wrote here (shared online courtesy of the Society of International Hockey Research) published in 2011.

Excerpt from "The Westmount Arena Fire"
Excerpt from “The Westmount Arena Fire

That paper is not directly meant for a  scientific audience, but it has a few things of interest for the fire safety scientist. The paper is mainly written for the sports lover – with little subtle touches of fire science sprinkled in. Today I find the paper a great lesson of synthesizing different subjects together for study and contributing something intended for a broad audience. If your curious about the origins of the National Hockey League, the fire of Westmount Arena, then this paper is a great piece to read to get some background on early professional sports.

Though if i were to write it again with what i know now ………

An excerpt is shown above which provides  some old photos of the fire’s aftermath to Westmount arena.

How I play with Lego grown up

Research Institute by Lego
Research Institute by Lego

Last month the company Lego released their Research Institute set (conceived by geoscientist Ellen Kooijman to promote science careers for women). The set features a woman chemist, a woman astronomer, and a woman archaeologist. The set sold out on the first day (online and in-store).  I managed to pick up a set though to support the message of promoting women in sciences. The set is challenging and fun. However, I wish they would have included a woman fire engineer in the set (they did propose to include an electrical engineer in the concept stage of the set and arguably the chemist could be considered a chemical engineer). However,  I can modify and create. Maybe I will re-create a scene where one of my favorite engineers of all time, Margaret Law, performs fire experiments as she did in the 1960s at the Fire Research Station (future blog entry).

Vintage fire hall by Lego
Vintage fire hall by Lego

I find there are a lot of engineers and architects I come across (men and women) who are embracing Lego sets these days. Quite often when I go into offices, I always see the  Lego Architecture sets displayed on the book shelf’s of my colleagues.  These sets are great for stress relief after a hectic day. They are great to ponder things over. And they are visibly pleasing in the corner of an office. These sets are no longer merely childern’s toys, but something educational for all ages. I take things further though. Recently I purchased the 2200 plus piece vintage fire hall set (naturally – vintage and fire) and began assembling it (pictured) . As a scientist, I question;  ‘What makes my Lego fit together so well?’ So a while back I decided to investigate just that using a Scanning Electron Microscope.  You may remember this from a previous blog where I challenged the reader to identify several materials (concrete, a steel and a plastic- the ‘plastic’ being lego) as mystery Scanning Electron Microscope images. For the Lego, I wanted to measure out the precision of a Lego piece to the micro-metre and get an idea just how snug they connect (pictured below) and what was going on at the microscopic level of these tiny interlocking bricks.

Mystery #2
Lego at 800 x
Lego at 57x. The gray scale is typical of unprocessed SEM imaging
Lego at 57 x

The lettering was most interesting (the letter E is blown up and pictured left). But in general the indents on the piece were precise to the micro-metre. I have been told that the tolerance of Lego is actually up to 2 microns.

Now things I wonder next. Could having too many Lego in a home be a fuel load hazard for a fire?  Giving that Lego is said to be made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (anything with sytrene can be nasty toxicity wise when heated) I think I would rather avoid doing any high temperature tests for now. Instead, I could look into the compressive strength of Lego answering how tall can I make lego….but that has been done.

I guess some toys we never grow out of….