05/11/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Petty cash box lost in Lac-Mégantic tragedy finds rightful owner

A petty cash box recovered from the burned-out library in Lac-Mégantic, Que., where 47 people were killed when a train carrying oil derailed last July, has been returned to its rightful owner — nearly a year after the tragedy.

Diane Roy, president of the Lac-Mégantic library’s board of directors, told CBC Quebec City reporter Marika Wheeler that police informed her in September they had found a petty cash box while sifting through the library's rubble.

She went down to the station to claim the box, which was covered in grime and oil from the explosion and smelled awful.

“It looked like ours, because it was the same colour and it was in [the head librarian’s] office and he was the only one who had a metal desk. But there were so much fuel in it, you could not open and know what it was in there, so he put it on a shelf,” Roy said.

“Many months after that, around December, we took it out and we looked at it, and he said it doesn’t look like ours,” she said.

Staff didn't want to open the box because the odour was so strong, but they did intend to display it in the new library. And so they put it back on the shelf.

Petty cash mix-up

Later, in speaking with Yannick Gagné, the owner of popular town haunt Musi-Café — a bar near the train tracks where many of the people who died on July 6 were at the time of explosion — she got a feeling there was more to the box than she first thought.

“He said, ‘You’re very lucky you found your petty cash box. We never found ours,’” Roy said.

She opened the box and discovered between $2,000 and $3,000 — far more than the library would have had on hand. Some coins had even been melted into the plastic inside the box.

“There was something in the bottom — keys we didn’t know,” she said.

They also found deposit slips signed by some of the Musi-Café’s staff members — including Andrée-Anne Sevigny, 26, who died the night of the explosion.

It was Gagné’s petty cash box all along.

“For him, it was the money from the evening of the disaster. So I’m very happy for him. He lost a lot, he lost a lot,” Roy said.

Memory of the old Musi-Café

But how did something from the basement of a bar end up being found amid the rubble from the library 100 metres away?

Roy and Gagné have some theories. Perhaps it was moved around by trucks as search teams sifted through the destruction. Or maybe someone found the box of money and hid it.

Either way, Gagné is happy to have it back. It’s come to mean so much to me, to have anything back from the old Musi-Café, Gagné said.

“When you’ve got nothing left, you’ll latch onto anything,” he said.

He isn’t sure what he’ll do with the money, but he intends to put the disfigured petty cash box on display in the new Musi-Café when it opens.

As for the library, it’s got its own good news: it reopened its doors and lent out its first books in nearly a year this past week.