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Arts & CultureBooksSudden Impact: The Almonte Train Wreck of 1942

Sudden Impact: The Almonte Train Wreck of 1942

by Edith Cody-Rice

 

Many Almontonians will be aware of the memorial plaques at the intersection of Mill and Bridge Street commenorating the great train crash of December 27, 1942 that garnered national and international attention. It is one of the deadliest train wrecks in Canadian history. The details of that traumatic event have receded into local history and although many of us know that it happened, few could recount its details.

Now author and broadcaster Jamie Brambruger, an Ottawa Valley native, has recalled in vivid detail the events of that evening in his new book Sudden Impact. He recounts, like a reporter at the scene, the crash itself, the investigaton of its causes, and the individuals involved: train crews, passengers, medical personnel and local volunteers who attended dying and wounded. For Almonte, it was a dramatic event and the town pulled together to rescue victims and extract the dead.

Briefly, a CPR passenger train, loaded with Christmas revellers returning to their various homes and jobs on that December night, was struck from behind by a powerful troop train, transporting soldiers to Halifax, while it stood loading passengers at the Almonte station. Thirty-six people died and 155 were injured, some so seriously they never completely recovered. An additional tragedy, days after the accident, was the suicide of the veteran troop train conductor, John Howard, who feared being held responsible for the passenger deaths. In the end, the Coroner’s inquest, held after Howard’s death, exonerated all crew members of both trains

The crash occurred on a snowy, dark evening at 8:35 pm, just minutes after the passenger train had arrived at the station. It was running 40 minutes late due to the weight of extra cars and Christmas passengers. At the station, the rear of the idling train extended well beyond the station platform, sitting  on Bridge Street. The troop train, with a powerful engine, was running faster than the passenger local and rammed into the rear of the wooden carriages at the back of the train, splintering them and crushing some passengers while hurtling others into the snow. The force was so great that a baby boy was found alive in the snow the morning after near the Almonte war memorial. The troop train’s crew, who relied on sight lines and signalling to ensure the track was clear, had limited vision due to snow and as they approached the station from the west, to mist rising from the Mississiippi River. By the time they spotted the passenger train, it was too late to avoid a collision.

Jamie Bramburger’s detailed retelling reads like a reporter’s account of the tragedy and its aftermath. He reviewed newspaper stories, accounts of the various investigations and conducted interviews with survivors and their relatives. He also received valuable material through access to information requests.

The book contains many asides dealing with the history of certain events, places and people. The reader will relive these events and get to know individuals involved along with those who attended the crash and  the investigations afterward. Some older residents will recall the O’Brien Theatre (now the Hub), the Rosamund hospital (now converted to apartments) and of course, an earlier version of the Old Town Hall which housed a temporary morgue after the accident. And they will recognize the names of doctors and other townspeople. Dr. John Dunn, who became a vibrant historian of Almonte file, attended the dying and wounded.

If you want to understand a significant piece of Almonte history, this is a book you will enjoy.

Published by Burnstown Publishing House

218 pages

available at Mill Street Books 

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