Thursday, 15 November 2018

Tragic Endings: The Tilley Family of Winnipeg

© 2018, Christian Cassidy

Tragic Endings: In my decade of blogging and other historical research I have come across hundreds of examples of Manitobans who died well before their time. This series is a  collection of stories about some of those lives.

Information about these deaths comes mainly from newspaper stories of the day as, in most cases, inquest documents, court transcripts and investigators' notes are no longer available. This means that the information I will provide will include many of the gaps in coverage, errors in reporting and prejudices of the day.

If you have additional information about any of these stories feel free to contact me at cassidy-at-mts.net

The Tilley Family of Winnipeg
I took a photo of this headstone whilst exploring the St. James cemetery. It wasn't until I downloaded the images a couple of weeks later that I realized the Tilleys all died on the same day, which suggests some sort of disaster.

It turns out that the family were on an ill-fated train journey from Halifax to Winnipeg in 1920.

Google Street View, 2014

Alfred R. Tilley was one of six sons born to Alfred and Elizabeth Tilley of Middleton, England.

The Tilleys moved to Winnipeg circa 1911 with some of their adult sons, including Alfred, Arthur, George and Harry. Most settled at 558 Clifton Street, a house known as "Elm Cottage". (Alfred first appears in the Henderson Directory at this address in 1911, the others appear in 1912 and 1913.)

Alfred and Harry began a wholesale garden market and greenhouse operation four blocks west at 547 Minto Street. Arthur and George also worked there.

January 28, 1920, Winnipeg Tribune

Alfred married Grace Lilian Payne in Winnipeg in September 1915. The couple had a son, James, in November 1917. In July 1919, Alfred took Grace and James on an extended holiday to his native England.

The Tilleys were returning to Winnipeg aboard the No. 1 Canadian Pacific - Vancouver Express train. It was so long that it was split into two sections, each pulled by its own engine.

At around 10:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, January 26, 1920, they were near Corbeil, Ontario, eighteen kilometres from North Bay, when the engine of the first section lost steam power and stalled just after passing a bend in the track. The second section rounded the bend and its engine plowed into the rear of the stopped train.

Nine passengers on the first section were killed and at least seven died later in hospital. Dozens were injured and had to endure a long wait in the minus-30 degree weather before being rescued.

February 4, 1920, Winnipeg Free Press

One of Tilley's brothers traveled to North Bay to identify the bodies and they were returned to Winnipeg for burial.

The funeral for Arthur, Elizabeth and James Tilley took place on February 3, 1920 at Gardner's Funeral Home on Kennedy Street and they were buried in one grave at St. James Cemetery.

The inscription on their headstone reads: "In their death they were not divided."

August 15, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

Arthur Tilley was a bother of Alfred's and had a couple of near death experiences during the war not long before the train crash that took Alfred's life.

A member of the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers militia, Arthur Tilley enlisted for the war in July 1915.

In October 1916, he received a gun shot wound to the right leg and was returned to England to recover. In July 1918, he was wounded in a poison gas attack and was again sent back to hospital. He returned to his unit a couple of months later and was discharged back to Winnipeg on June 12, 1919.

Arthur and George, the two surviving Tilley brothers, ran the garden business until their retirement around 1948.

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