Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old School Disasters, Camp And Other Stories

The Dugold Train Disaster of 1947 from the Manitoba Historical Society

My sister and I spent a fair bit of our summers at my grandparents camp. In toronto, people refer to their holiday houses as cottages, but if you lived between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg you called a summer place camp. My grandparents grew up in Thunder Bay and a big part of their worldview for a lifestyle was to have a camp. I don't know exactly when my grandparents got their camp about 30 kms from Kenora, but I know my mum grew up playing there for her summers. There were many times when the neighbours would recognize my sister and I because we looked like our mum when we were kids. Yes, there were neighbours who knew my grandparents when they were young, knew my mum and her brothers when they were young and still actually lived in this remote lake.

There wasn't a road....we went to camp by train. My grandfather worked for the Canadian National Railway and we were always ona train, as both my grandparents had lifetime passes. There wasn't a road. Or electricity, or running water, or telephones. Today I was able to loo at the lake by going to Google Earth. We used to play canasta at night time by the light of Coleman lamps or kerosene lamps. My grandparents had this place decked out pretty comfortably though, with overstuffed velvet 30's furniture, Fiesta ware dishes, full dining room set, silverware, three bedrooms and a massive stone handmade fireplace (made by my grandfather). I guess my grandmother just moved her old furniture from the 1930's up to the camp and bought new stuff for the city because the whole house was all 1930's stuff.

We were almost never allowed to be inside. Even reading we had to be outside...and we played outside almost even when it rained. We had huge barrels covered with cheesecloth to catch rainwater and we would boil this up for baths. Oh yes, we had one of those huge clawfoot cast iron tubs even if we didn't have running water. We boiled the water from the lake to drink. (my grandmother was afraid of us drinking bugs) The area is basically called "lake-of-the-woods" and used to be very very remote. There is a road now, in fact, there even is a car lot. A car lot, hard to believe.

As I said, we were sent outside, like or not, as soon as breakfast was over. We were encouraged to hike and explore and play outside all day. We were taught what to do if we met a black bear. We were also given a bag of rags.

Not what you're thinking, not those kinds of rags thank you very much. These rags were saved by my grandmother and mum for the sole purpose of a gps unit. The woods in Ontario, espcially between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, are dense repetitive and deceptive. After ten minutes no matter where you are looks like where you were.

My sister and I used the rags as a gps unit. We tied them to the trees. That way, we could follow them back to the camp when we were ready to come home.

My grandmother was a great storyteller. I don't remember my grandfather very well except that he was quite funny and also a fairly good story teller. But my grandmother loved to tell a story and talk...and would she talk. At night she usually made herself a cocktail, lit up a smoke and played Cribbage or Canasta with my sister and I and one of her favourite themes was train wrecks. When she grew up train wrecks were the disasters of her era. Much like plane crashes and survival are to us today. I must have heard about the Dugold train disaster a million times. And loved it, it was a fascinating story of human error, an almost ridiculous mistake and massive death. I suppose in some ways seeing as we travelled so much by train (we also spent a crazy amount of time driving across the country or flying when we were growing up) on train travel these might be morbid stories for children. I can't say they weren't as this side of the family relished a good scary true life tale. I loved hearing the train stories about crashes as I would try to imagine what I would do to survive or how frightening it must have been for the passengers. I learned early on how powerful these types of stories were for people and how much they influenced everyone's lives. However much we might think contemporary "media" sensationalizes tragedy...I often remember my grandmothers generation with their recollections and obsessions with train accidents. I also appreciate that my grandmother was never afraid to discuss life and death with us...teaching us how to narrate and discuss communal events.

Other old-time Canadian train disasters:

-December 6, 1902 – Halifax, N.S., Six persons were killed in a wreck on the Inter-Colonial, the Canadian Government railway, at noon to-day near Belmont Station, seventy miles from Halifax. The Canadian Pacific express for Montreal rolled down an embankment, completely wrecking the locomotive, the postal, express, and baggage cars and several passenger cars.
-January 21, 1910 – Spanish River derailment Northern Ontario, Canada: Canadian Pacific Railway's westbound Soo Express derails while crossing the bridge at Spanish River. 44 people die, many more are injured.
-June 25, 1913 – Ottawa train accident, Canada: A train heavily loaded with immigrants derails near Ottawa. Spreading rails sends two immigrant cars into river. 8 die and approximately 50 are injured.
-August 9, 1941 – Montreal, Quebec CNR passenger train #242 from Vaudreuil collides with a stationary switch engine in the Turcot Yards... the locomotive and two cars of the passenger train are derailed. The fireman is killed and the engineer is severely burned when the boiler ruptures... 53 passengers are injured.
-December 27, 1942 – Almonte, Ontario, Canada: 36 people are killed and over 200 injured when a passenger train running late was struck from behind by a troop train
-October 1966 – The Dorion level crossing accident: A merchant CN Rail train traveling at an excessive speed collides with a school bus at a level-crossing in Dorion, Quebec, Canada, killing 19 of 40 teenage students and the bus driver.
-November 10, 1979 – Mississauga train derailment in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada: tank cars containing propane and chlorine derail, causing a fire which lofts deadly contamination high into the air. No fatalities or serious injuries, but more than 250,000 residents are evacuated from the city: the largest peacetime emergency evacuation in North American history until 2005 when New Orleans was evacuated because of Hurricane Katrina.
-February 17, 1986 – Queronque rail disaster, a Valpara√≠so–Santiago express train head-on collided with local train, which carrying more 550 passengers on-board at Queronque bridge, outskirt of Limache, Quillota, Chile, in an incident caused by express train driver has exceeded speed on a sharp curved stretch. Chilean official confirmed, killing 62, another injured are 464.
-December 30, 1999 – Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, Canada: Several tank cars filled with gasoline and heating oil from the CN freight train 703 travelling westward derailed as it was passing the CN freight train 306 train, travelling in the opposite direction on a parallel track. Train 306 hit the derailed wagons, which explode on impact, killing the engineer and the conductor of the 306 and starting a fire which was to burn 2.7 million litres of oil and force evacuation of 350 families within a 2 kilometres radius over the next four days. From International Rail Accidents


The Bumbles said...

I think that entire generation was filled with natural story tellers - they talked more to each other, played games, didn't soften the world, and were very practical. We're all a bunch of wussies now. With too many distractions and instant access to everything. I look forward to our long weekend journey once each summer to our friends' camp at a lake in Maine where we spend all day outside, sit by the fire all night, play cards inside when it rains, and only listen to the radio - no TV, computers or cell phones. Heaven!

mister anchovy said...

There are certain trout stream I fly fish from time to time, such as the Fox in Northern Michigan, where once you're on the stream, it's very difficult to find where you came in. I use a variation of the rag gps unit. I usually wear a couple bandanas around my neck to help keep the bugs out, and I tie one of those to a tree to mark the trail out.

Excellent post by the way! It reminded me of a time when I was a kid and my dad and brother and i would go fishing. In the car, we would sing the Wreck of the Old 97. I knew all the words from when I was a tyke.

Greg S. said...

Great story, Candy. I've always liked to talk to older people and to hear their stories. You catch a glimpse of times gone by and can feel the reverberations of those times in the storyteller. That camp sounds really neat. I should have carried rags on some of my hiking trips in the Appalachians.

tweetey30 said...

Never got this experience but as a child we used to go camping all the time.. miss thos old days really.. but thanks for sharing this... you know lookinga at all those deaths its almost like do people want to get on a train and ride besides the deaths on planes... yikes...

Candy Minx said...

hey Bumbles, that is probably quite true about more card games and in person visiting in the past. A lot of people these days have company or social time only a couple times a month...whereas the whole rat pack fan generation was visiting every week, often with neighbours and then the famous sunday dinners. Your holiday in maine sounds divine. Stagg doesn't know any card games and we are learning some slowly....a great way to spend an evening. I miss my poker games up in Toronto!

Mr. A I totally should have included a video of that song in this post! Oh you can totally get lost up north in the rivers and trees. i will never forget when martina's mum, Martina and I were mushroom picking and her mum got off our team effort and she was lost for hours. We had cops and helicopters looking for her....she ran for hours till she found a road...and stopped a car to drive her back to us freaked out...

Greg S. the Appalacians are totally intimidating to me. I've done a couple of hikes in them and whoa....it would be easy to disappear in them....insert banjos....

Tweetey, we went all out camping a lot when I was a kid too. Actually right up through high school our family would go camping...a very outdoorsy family i come from....makes for a lot of good memories. yeah, train crashes are pretty crazy and still happen...but a lot of potential for inexpensive crosscountry travel if we make more lines in the future!

S.M. Elliott said...

You have to love a good old story! The other day I met a man in his 80s and we learned we were both born and raised on the Ontario-Minnesota border (I was born at a hospital, he was born at home prematurely and placed over the barrelstove in a roasting pan to "cook"). Ah, the stories!

Anyway, those train stories are horrifying. I think I might have had a train phobia growing up in those days. Thanks for the slice of history!