This is one in a series on Manitoba's deadliest train crashes.
UPDATE: My May 13, 2018, column in the Winnipeg Free Press takes a detailed look back at this crash fifty years later. I talk to family members and find that a scheduling change that night prevented what would have been the worst train disaster in Canada's history.
Top: April 24, 1968, Regina Leader-Post (source)
Bottom: Winnipeg Tribune Archives (source)
At 2:45 am on April 23, 1968, a 97-car CN cargo train travelling across the Birdtail Sioux First Nation was approaching a bridge over the Birdtail Creek, about about 20 kilometres southwest of Birtle, Manitoba.
As it crossed, part of the bridge gave way sending its four engines and first 22 cars into a deep ravine below.
Three of the five crew members, all from Saskatchewan, died at the scene.
- Robert Emerson, 50, was originally from Hamiota but two years earlier had relocated to Yorkton. He was the husband of Marjorie and father of five.
- Herbert Dagerstedt, 36, of Melville. He was the husband of Elaine and father of two.
- Alfred Varga, 40, of Melville. he was the husband of Adeline and father of five, the youngest just seven weeks old.
April 23, 1968, Winnipeg Free Press
A coroner's inquest opened in Hamiota, Manitoba under the direction of Dr. J. Edward Hudson on May 23, 1968.
Senior CN officials testified that it was the company's belief that a fire was created by a braking train that crossed the bridge hours before burned one of the wooden approaches to the bridge. The fire weakened it enough that the next train to pass fell through.
In the end, the derailment was ruled accidental.
March 29, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press
The Birdtail Sioux First Nation was concerned that children could be hurt playing in or near the site. In March 1995, they began negotiations with CN to have it removed. Talks broke down and the First Nation began excavating the site on their own.
In December 2002, the federal Government launched a $1.7m lawsuit against CN on behalf of the First Nation for costs related to the cleanup.