On Wednesday, Saint John residents reflected on a fire that killed 21 men 40 years ago.

Although the tragedy is known as the jail fire, it actually happened in the police lock up on the ground level of Saint John City Hall.

Court determined an inmate who was placed into a padded cell was responsible. Police had searched him twice for matches.

“The individual had started a fire in the padded cell which immediately caused a great deal of smoke," says former Saint John councillor Ralph Landers.

Landers had only been a city councillor for a few weeks at the time of the fire. He says he remembers it like it was yesterday.

"Seeing all of those bodies and the trauma and everything that night is something that will never leave me,” says Landers.

Many of the men were in the jail for minor offences.

Local musician Richard Mailman wrote the song “Listen to our Cure” in memory of the victims.

"I wrote it because I want to try and give some closure to the families,” says Mailman. “I grew up in the south end; a lot of families were involved from the south end."

“They weren't convicted criminals, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Saint John historian Harold Wright. “Probably one of the most tragic events Saint John had ever experienced."

Wright says it’s also unfortunate that many people in Saint John don't know the story.

“We've forgotten the men who died that night,” he says.

Douglas Walsh’s cousin Michael Blizzard was among the 21 victims.

"It’s like losing apart of yourself, really,” says Walsh. “It wasn't like he was my cousin, but he was my brother. Forty years, you know, it doesn't take away the grief."

Walsh and his family feel there should be a memorial in Saint John engraved with the victims’ names.

“My generation was the last,” says Walsh. “When we're gone, who's going to remember?”

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mary Cranston.