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 Valparaíso–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