The small shops and enterprises obliterated by the train played an integral role in bringing life to the town. They delivered a taste of art, culture and fashion.
"Let's get this town going," is how artist Louise Latulipe described their can-do attitude.
But the runaway train sidetracked the dream of Luce Robineau.
She owned a funky shop called IDfolle, which means "crazy idea" -- a cute name with an entrepreneurial ring. The boutique featured art, clothes, papier-mache and other items with a Quebec flair. She even fashioned jewelry from a wasp nest.
She was out of town when her family called to tell her the downtown -- and her shop -- were burning. She couldn't get her head around what she heard.
"It's a joke? Right?" The night before, there was an art exhibit at a renovated train station.
In the hours and days since the disaster, she's gotten e-mails, Facebook messages, telephone calls: Are you OK?
She's spent so much time responding to friends that she hasn't even begun to cope with the loss of her business and the paperwork that lies ahead. She hopes to survive by drawing from savings, and she's counting on insurance money, maybe even help from the government.
It will take time but she wants to stay in business. People are already sharing thoughts about how to rebuild.
"I don't want to move. If I open up again, I want to be in a downtown area," she said. "Life will gain over death."
Historical artifacts up in smoke
The train destroyed the town's municipal library: 60,000 books, discs, videos and other items. Gone with them: a growing and irreplaceable collection of artifacts that told the story of Lac-Megantic.
The library was a downtown centerpiece, says Yvette Cellard, a member of its board of directors. The place buzzed with students from a nearby junior college, moms who brought kids there for storytelling and genealogists who gathered to discuss a rich past.
As the library thrived over the years, it was easy to forget that its creation had once been a political football. Some people in town had opposed it; others believed building a library would promote culture.
Now, the only books left are the ones that haven't been returned by readers. Cellard and her cohorts want to build a new library. Already, someone has started a drive to collect new books.
"A library is a place of culture, learning and communication," she said. "A library has to be in the center of the town."
Her top concern right now, however, is people, including the handful at the library who've lost their jobs.
"My concern is to get them back to work."
Mourning, on the street and the Web
It didn't take long for the townspeople and its diaspora to figure out who was never going to come home.
It is believed that many of the victims were partying in a popular spot, the Musi-Café. Some might have already gone to bed in apartments above the shops.
Jacques Cloutier, a teacher, remembers two missing people: Genevieve Breton, a young woman who performed in a popular Quebec talent show, and Guy Bolduc, a well-known singer.
People talk about the odd twist that saved some lives at the cafe: They were outside having a smoke and eluded the fireball.
There's a Facebook site honoring the town and those killed: Lac-Megantic: Support aux gens. Messages pour in -- inquiries about lost people, reminiscences and tributes.
Roger Sirois aired his grief about the loss of a loved one. "All my 'small world' is turned upside down," he said on the Facebook page. He thanked people for their support and urged everyone to be united.