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Wednesday 4 September 2013

Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Dugald (1947)

©2013, Christian Cassidy
This is one in a series of blog posts about Manitoba's worst train disasters.

Dugald, Manitoba

On the night of Monday, September 1, 1947, the thirteen-car CNR Extra No. 6001, known to most as the Minaki Campers' Special, was returning to Winnipeg from cottage country with 326 passengers on board. Just after 9:40 pm it was nearing Dugald, Manitoba.

At the same time, CNR Train No. 4, a transcontinental passenger train en route from Vancouver to Toronto, was stopped at the Dugald station to allow passengers to board. It was running two hours behind.

Instead of switching onto a siding, the Minaki Special continued on the main line and at 9:44 p.m. slammed into the stationary train at 50 kilometres per hour.

 Dugald, Manitoba
Above: September 3, 1947, Milwaukee Sentinel
Below: From the memorial at Dugald, Manitoba

The Minaki Special had the disadvantage of being made up of a number old, wooden passenger cars that were still lit and heated with oil. These relics were not used on regular train runs but still common on "beach trains".

The wooden cars closest to the front of the train disintegrated into splinters killing most who were aboard them. The cars that followed plowed into the rubble and a number of them jumped the tracks. 

The deadliest factor in the accident was fire. Oil from the lamps and heaters spilled free setting the cars alight, trapping those inside. The fire soon spread to an Imperial Oil storage facility next to the track containing 12,000 litres of bulk oil, gasoline and kerosene.

Emergency crews en route from Winnipeg to assist said that they could see the fire burning from ten kilometres away.

September 2, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

The fact that more people did not die was thanks to area residents and the less injured passengers.  

Gerald Shields, (his name is incorrect in the photo caption above), of Dugald was working on his car when he saw the crash take place. He crawled into the wreck and pulled five people out before being forced back by fire, suffering multiple lacerations and burn wounds for his trouble.

Russell Bell, a trucker from Anola, saw the glow and sped to the site. Seeing that the last two cars had yet to catch fire, he uncoupled them and with the help of others attached a chain and pulled them free with his truck.

There was some first aid in the form of three nurses and a doctor from Toronto who happened to be passengers on both trains. The "Dugald' sign on the station was removed to be used as a stretcher to load the injured into trucks to be brought to hospital or to buildings near the highway.

The aftermath (source: MHS)

The injured were rushed to St. Boniface Hospital which was soon jammed not only with patients, but also with those searching for loved ones. It was a chaotic scene as there was no passenger manifest to identify who was on board. In fact, in the days to follow, newspapers carried the stories of at least a half dozen people who either missed the train or decided to stay an extra night at the cottage.

The less injured passengers from the Minaki Special were taken back to Winnipeg aboard Train No. 4 which sustained only minor damage.

September 2, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

By late the next day twenty-six bodies had been recovered from the wreck and taken to Cook's Funeral Home in Transcona. Relatives of the missing were invited to come identify the charred, mangled remains. More than two hundred people lined up for the grim task but by the time the night was over only four were identified, most due to the jewellery they were wearing.

In the end, thirty-one people were killed and around eighty injured, fifteen of them considered serious with major burns, severed limbs and / or multiple broken bones.

September 8, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

Only seven bodies could be identified and two were never found. It was decided to bury the unidentified at a mass service at Brookside Cemetery on September 9th. 

Thousands of people lined the route as the cortege of twenty-two* hearses and more than fifty cars filled with loved ones and officials left the Legislature at 2:05 pm on a twenty-minute procession to the cemetery. (* The additional casket was that of Richard Mellor whose body was identified but the family chose to bury him with the unidentified so that he could be with his wife.)

At Brookside Cemetery a brief private ceremony was held. Members of the Winnipeg Police Department, CN Constabulary and RCMP acted as pallbearers, placing each coffin next to a marker that read "Unidentified. Died September 1, 1947." A permanent gravestone to all Dugald victims buried at Brookside was eventually erected.

September 24, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

The Transportation Board, CNR and provincial coroner all held inquiries into the crash.

Testimony at the preliminary Transportation Board hearing indicated the both the east and west bound lights were green, thus putting the two trains on a collision course. This put immediate suspicion on the signal man at Dugald.

Even before the testimony about the lights had not finished, the coroner issued a material witness arrest order for
signalman Donald F. Tedlie, a former RCAF signalman who had been with CN for three years. He spent a week in Headingley before being released on $5,000 bail.

As the inquiry continued, it was determined that an order had been sent to the Minaki Special by CN dispatchers to take the siding when it reached Dugald and that the light had been switched to red at the switching point. Tedlie had simply switched it back to green as soon as the train reached that point to save having to do it later in the evening. In other words, the light was changed after the train passed the point of no return.

The coroner took heat for his decision to have Tedlie held but stuck by it. The Tribune, though, published a front page apology to the signalman. The following year, Tredkie sued Southam for defamation and lost, but appealed and in 1950 was awarded $2,000 in damages.

A. C. Nichols, an assistant superintendent with the C.N.R., was a passenger aboard the Minaki Special. He testified that he didn't realize that anything was wrong until seconds before impact.

The train had been travelling at eighty kph then slowed to fifty before reaching Dugald, something required by law when passing a station. The engineer blew the train's whistle, an indication that he had received his instructions. Seconds before impact, the emergency brake was applied and Nichols knew instinctively what was coming next.

October 10, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

The coroner's inquest lasted from September 23 to October 9 and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses. The jury lay blame for the crash on the crew of CN Extra No. 6001, the Minaki Campers' Special, for failing to obey the order and red light signal that they were given.

During the inquest, the jury heard testimony that it wasn't uncommon for crews to get "highballs" - last minute localized manual signals or hand gestures that overrode official orders. In fact, this happened to the Minaki Special at another siding just over an hour before the crash at Dugald.

This, of course, created a dangerous situation if CN's central dispatch was directing traffic based on their orders, not on what was actually happening on the ground.

In the end, t
here was no evidence that a highball was given at Dugald before the crash.

The jury recommended that a more robust signals system be installed at Dugald and that crews and local signalmen be given better training as to when and how signals and orders could be changed on the ground.

September 2, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

The jury also recommended that the use of wooden passenger cars be phased out as soon as possible. In the meantime, they should be relegated to sidings and spur lines where meeting oncoming trains would not be an issue. 

The president of the CNR responded in the media saying that all railways had little choice but to press old equipment into service. He noted that his company had $50 million in back-orders, including those for dozens of steel passenger cars, sitting unfilled at factories until wartime restrictions on the use of steel was lifted.

 Mass headstone, Brookside Cemetery
August 27, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

The various inquiries answered "why" the disaster happened: the Minaki Special train crew failed to switch to the siding. None of them answered "how?".

How could an experienced crew that was obviously awake and in charge of the train as it approached Dugald ignore the dispatcher's orders and the red light signal ?

The coroner's inquest confirmed that engineer Gaylord Lewis died from severe brain trauma sustained i the crash, not of a heart attack or seizure.

Though some of the testimony of rail yard workers didn't match up completely, there was no indication that someone on the ground overrode the original orders with a highball. Some who testified noted that it would have been physically impossible to give a highball as the very long Train No. 4 was idling right on main line at Dugald Station and they physically couldn't see the Mainaki train as it pulled in.

With the entire crew of the Minaki Special killed in the crash, what exactly happened in the minutes before the crash will never be known.

Dugald, Manitoba
Dugald, Manitoba

In August 1950, a cairn was erected in Malachi Island, Ontario, where some of the cottagers had their summer homes. No memorial was created in Dugald for sixty years.

In the early 2000s the Springfield Women's Institute began fundraising to create a memorial near the accident site. It was unveiled on September 1, 2007, the 60th anniversary of the disaster. 

The Dugald Train Disaster remains Canada's fourth deadliest train crash.

The Dead:

These names and photos are compiled from various editions of the Free Press and Tribune in a three week period after the crash. All victims are from the Minaki Campers' Special.

The CN crew of the Minaki Special were all killed:

Frederick Skogsberg, 50, conductor147 Walnut Street. He was a 31 year veteran of the CNR. He left wife May and grown sons Fred, Allan and Raymond.

Gaylord B. Lewis, engineer, of 97 Park Circe, Transcona, He left a wife, Mamie.

J. E. Papkie, fireman, 234 Bell Avenue.

Gilbert Rougeau, brakeman, 99 Victoria Avenue W.. He left a wife and young twins Murray and Joan.

 Three families were wiped out by the crash:

The Dixon Family of 121 Smithfield Street, W. Kildonan: Granville Dixon, CNR Rail Clerk, his wife, son Donald (21) and daughters Merle (11) and Patricia.

The Steele Family of 694 Toronto Street: George Steele, wife Verna and 9 year-old son Donnie.

Richard and Elizabeth Mellor of 20 Kingsford Avenue, St. Vital, and their son George Fraser, a TCA employee. Richard's body was identified but Elizabeth's was not. The family chose to bury him with the unidentified so that they could be buried together.

Albert Simpson (57) of 13 Morier Avenue, and his 2 year-old granddaughter Peggy were the only survivors of the Simpson Family. Mrs. Simpson and daughters Winnie (26) and Betty (17) were killed.

Edward Adams (23) of 754 Government Ave, E. Kildonan was the only survivor of the Adams Family. His father Stanley C. Adams, CNR employee, mother, and 18 year-old sister Shirley of 750 Moncton Street were killed.

Mr and Mrs George Harmon, Joyce Vander Linden, 308 Roseberry Street, St. James.

Donna Barlow, 17, of 82 Morier Avenue, St. Vital. She was the best friend of Betty Simpson and stayed with them for the long weekend.

Alma Wynn, an award-winning classical vocalist, 847 Westminster Avenue.

Edlaura (Ida) Kozar, 131 Langside Street

Marta Jarvi, 123 Sherbrook Street

Jane Jamieson, 774 Wellington Crescent

Miss E. Booth, 847 Westminster Avenue

 Adam Richardson, 48 Woodrow Place

October 2, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune, p.1

Dugald Train Disaster Manitoba Historical Society
Dugald Train Crash of '47 CKND News (video)
Manitoba's worst train disasters West End Dumplings


Anonymous said...

I am a retired CNR conductor living in Dugald MB. This history should stand forever , so this type of history will not be repeated .CNR has put many safety protocols in place . CNR has a long memory that believes in safety first .

Anonymous said...

I know; I know- I'm a pedant. But you list Alma Wynne as living at 847 Westminster Ave., when in fact that is the address for Miss M.E. Booth. This was probably conflated from this newspaper article, where they and their addresses are listed in sequence: https://www.gendisasters.com/manitoba/8717/dugald-mb-train-collision-sep-1947

You're not the only one to do it. I used to live at 847 Westminster and thought for the longest time that that was my closest brush with local celebrity. ;-)

Val said...

I believe Alma Wynne was the granddaughter of Cessil Thorne.
Cessil lived at 847 Westminster in 1947, as did Miss M.E. Booth.
Perhaps Alma and Miss Booth were travelling back from the cottage together that night before this horrific event?

PS: Should Anonymous who lived at 847 ever come back to this spot on the blog....if you don't mind me asking, in what year did you live at 847?

Susan said...

Two of my second cousins, and their mother, were on the Minaki Special that night. They were from Redditt,Ontario and were going into Winnipeg for a few days. Their father was originally from Keewatin and the family had many relatives in Keewatin and Kenora. The children were only young-3 and 6, I believe. After the crash occurred, the oldest, a girl, recalled finding herself in what seemed to be a swampy area. Because of the reflection of the flames in the water, she was able to see her brother. He was beginning to sink and his legs were sticking out of the water. She went to pull him out, but couldn't. At the same time, a man came rushing over and pulled my cousin out of the mire. He managed to get them to safety and they ended up in one of the Winnipeg hospitals, but were not with the main group of casualties. The children had no identification on them, but the oldest was able to tell her full name...their rescuer had been a Winnipeg newspaper reporter, and he went looking for the mother. In the meantime, their mother had gone to the morgue and to different hospitals looking for her children. For 3 days, she believed her children must have been amongst those whose remains were too badly burnt to be identified, or, that their bodies had not been found. The reporter managed to track her down and helped reunite her with her children; but the horror, anxiety and despair over those 3 days caused the mother to have what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that affected her for the rest of her life. The story of my relatives is not recorded anywhere, except here. Both my cousins are living, and the girl, now a woman in her 70's, still has memories of that night. Out of respect for them, I cannot give their names. I was given this information by another family member, who recalled these events, as told to her by the mother many years ago.