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Canadian Rail 476 2000

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Canadian Rail 476 2000

66
CANADIAN RAIL
ISSN 0008-4875
Postal
Permit No. 1494279
PUBLISHED BI·MONTHLY BY THE CANADIAN RAILROAD HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
NOT A BRIDGE TOO FAR BUT ONE FAR ENOUGH ……………………………… . DAVID L. DAViES ……………. ..
ENGINEER BIRSE AND THE WRECKAT LACHINE WHARF. …………………….. . FRED F. ANGUS ……………… .
OUR GALLERY OF MURALS (CONTINUED) ………………………………………….. .
THE BUSINESS CAR ………………………………………………………………
……….. .
67
84
94
95
FRONT CO VER: C.PR. Budd car 9107 is the lead unit of a two-car passenger trainjllst arrived at Megantic, Que. on a daytime runfrom Montreal
on March
27, 1966. A month later this day train was discontinued, but ovemight service to Saint John, N.B. continued On this linefor l11(lny more years.
Photo by FredAngus
BELOW One
of the delighiful ilVnies of railway histOlY is the fact that Canadian Pacific s first locomotive was bought second-hand flVm its arch rival
the Grand Trunk! When the CPR officially began operation,
011 May 1 1881, it had not yet taken possession of the locomotives of the lines it took Ovel;
and the six new engines it had ordered (Nos. / -6) were not completed. Therefore it had to rely on ten second-hand engines (Nos. 7 -16), including
sixfrom the GTR. The.first two, and the only ones on hand on May 1, were Nos 11 and 12, ex-GTR 96 and 97, originally GTR 286 and 287, built by
Kingston in 1870 as broad gauge, and converted to standard
in 1874. Here we see 286 brand new at thefactory in November /870. This historic engine
became CPR
No. 11, its very first locomotive, and was scrapped in October, 1895. To learn more about Kingston-built locomotives, buy the CRHAs
new book
Constructed in Kingston . Photo given by John Loye to Donald Angus about /936.
For your membership in the CRHA, which
includes a subscription
to Canadian Rail,
write
to:
CRHA, 120 Rue St-Pierre, St. Constant,
Que. J5A 2G9
Membership Dues for 2000:
In Canada: $36.00 (including all taxes)
United States: $31.00
in U.S. funds.
Other Countries: $56.00 Canadian funds. Canadian Rail
is continually in need of news, sto­
ries historical data, photos, maps and other mate­
rial. Please send all contributions to the editor: Fred
F. Angus,
3021 Trafalgar Ave. Montreal, PQ. H3Y 1 H3.
No payment can be made for contributions, but the
contributer will be given credit for material submit­
ted. Material will be returned to the contributer
if re­
quested. Remember Knowledge is of little value
unless
it is Shared with others.
EDITOR: Fred F. Angus
CO-EDITOR: Douglas
N.W. Smith
ASSOCIATE EDITOR (Motive Power):
Hugues
W. Bonin
LAYOUT: Fred
F. Angus
PRINTING: Procel Printing
DISTRIBUTION: Joncas Postexperts
Inc.
MAY -JUNE 2000 67 CANADIAN RAIL -476
Not A Bridge Too Far But One Far Enough
or How the G.T.P. Crossed the Fraser at Prince George, British Columbia
by David Ll. Davies
Authors introduction: If
bridges have personalities, then the CN
bridge at Prince George, central British
Columbia,
is very shy. It has never even
whispered that
it is the longest railway
bridge in the province, and has
certainly never told anyone about its
exciting past. To get the full flavour
of
this bridges history, you must
appreciate that this region of Canada
was remote and a pristine wilderness at
the beginning
of the 20th century. It
was only the knowledge that the
railway was going to pass through Fort
George that this solitary Hudson
s Bay
post became a small settlement, starting
in 1906. At that time it could only be
reached from southern British
Columbia by a tedious combination of
wagon roads, sternwheeJers and rough
The CN. bridge at Prince George as viewed from the west bank of the Fraser River in
Octobel;
1999. The downtown area of the city is behind the camera. Photo byauthol:
trails. In the summer of 1911 a journalist, Frederick Talbot,
canoed down the upper Fraser River from near its headwaters
in the Rockies to Fort George. He had this to say:-Until the
Grand Trunk Pacific surveyors penetrated this country it
was practically a closed book. Scarcely anything was known
concerning its
topography and natural resources. As we
travelled down this magnificent waterway the solitude
and
silence were such as could be felt. For over 300 miles we
saw scarcely a vestige
of civilization. Two years later all
the supplies needed to create the railway and sustain the 30
work
camps located between Tete Jaune Cache [temporary
railhead
in lower slopes of Rockies] and Fort George, went
down 315 miles of this river; the right-of-way when
completed only occupied 185 miles. This water highway
was also used to bring in all the materials needed to build
the sub-structure
of this bridge at Fort/Prince George, and as
this
story unfolds you will realize that you have stumbled
upon a railway construction
saga or epic tale that needs to
be more widely known. This half-mile bridge is truly
impressive and was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
in 1913-14.
Why did this bridge not make headlines at the time?
There are three probable answers. The bridge came into
service just as World War I broke out and all eyes were focused
on Europe; its
owner was just completing a very expensive
piece
of railway and was in poor financial health and in no
mood to beat drums; and it was located
in wilderness country,
so had little meaning to outsiders
in mid and eastern Canada.
Prince George was not so named until it was incorp­
orated as a city
in May 1915 and was previously known as
Fort George, having been a Hudson Bay post.
For simplicity,
the
locality will be called Prince George in this article,
irrespective
of the time frame. It is now a city of 75,000. I
am interested in railway draw bridges and have
identified 22 of them in B.C., of which 10 still draw. Of the
latter, two are used constantly, and the balance vary between
quite often and infrequently. A railway draw bridge is
defined as having a span that opens, by revolving or lifting,
to
allow the passage of vessels. Most of those in B.C. are
located at or near the coast, but seven
of them were built in
the interior including the CN bridge at Prince George. The
majority of bridges that have ceased to draw are still in use
today with fixed span
s. Back in 1996 I tried to amplify my
notes about the Prince George bridge and
came up with very
little; it seemed as
if it did not have a history and was very
superficially mentioned
in any literature. Hence this article.
This story could not have been told without the use
of two valuable sources. The first is the pocket book of the
engineer who designed and oversaw its building; it
contains
all the
needed dimensions and detailed costs. The bridge
engineer was Joseph G. Legrand [1861-1923). Born in France,
he received a technical education there and emigrated to
Canada in 1891. Between 1893 and 1903 he worked
successively as a draftsman, checker, and designer
of bridge
work and in 1903 was appointed assistant chief engineer of
the predecessor firm that became the Montreal Locomotive
Works. He joined the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1906,
at age 45, and assumed responsibilty for designing and
overseeing the building of all the bridges on the new railway,
thus becoming one
of its senior managers. The second major
source
is a five-page article in the magazine Engineering
News, issued in October 1914, immediately after the bridge
had been completed. The author was W.C. Ruegnitz, the
superintendent of the company that was contracted to build
the concrete piers -or sub-structure –
of the Prince George
bridge.
RAIL CANADIEN -476 68 MAl -JUIN 2000
GRAND TRUNK PACIFIC RAILWAY
at 1914
o 50
100
I
ISO
200
I
rLast spikej
l2… Apr 191~
SMITHERS ~ ,j
….

,
Miles
N
t
G.T.P.R.
Map of the Grand Trunk Pacific line from Edmonton to Prince Rupert, showing the location of Ihe Prince George bridge.
VI
The vision,· planning and
•• , construction of this Grand Trunk Pacific
• Railway bridge occupied the years 1910-
14
but perhaps a useful introduction is to
• •
describe the present day railway situation
at Prince George. This city is at the hub
of
two railway systems. From east to west the CNR line roughly
bisects British Columbia, starting
at a junction with CNRs
transcontinental main line, just west of Jasper, and terminates
at
Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast. The bridge of this
article
is part of _tlus line. Intersecting this trackagei right
angles
is the British Columbia Railway (formerly the Pacific
Great Eastern Railway) which runs from the northlands
of
the province, southwards to tidewater at Vancouver. These
two railway systems connect at Prince George and there is
currently a major interchange of traffic. Open-pit mined coal
in the northeast of B.C. is taken to Prince George by BCR
and is then passed to CNR for furtherance to Prince Rupert,
where it is loaded on ships for Japan. This westbound
movement of coal commenced in November 1983 and on
the 9th August 1999 the millionth carload of this mineral
trundled over the single track
of the Prince George bridge,
thus emphasizing the bridges importance
is as great now as
when it was built 85 years ago. So how did a railway reach
Prince George and
why?
This story has to begin with the formation of the Grand
Trunk Pacific Railway [GTPR], created in 1903
as a wholly
owned subsidiary of the Grand Trunk Railway,
headquartered
in Montreal, and financed by British money
and ultimately controlled by a board
of directors in London.
It was the outcome
of a dream of the Canadian government
and investment groups who wished to create a second
Canadian trancontinental railway. This became a fact by
1915 when such a railway ran from Moncton to Prince Rupert.
When all the bills came in,
it was found the Canadian taxpayer
had
paid 60% of the cost and private investment, mostly British,. paid the rest.
The GTPR, commenced in August 1905
and opened in its entirety in September 1914, ran from
Winnipeg to Prince Rupert. It was built, with differing start
dates, from Winnipeg westwards and Prince Rupert eastwards,
with the two converging tracks meeting some 100 miles west
of Prince George in the spring of 1914. The GTPRs total
length was 1750 miles, of which about 710 miles lay in
British Columbia. So from commencement until the first
through service began between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert,
ten weary years had elapsed.
The bridge at Prince George
was the .very last·Df. the· major engineering works to be
completed on the project and was the largest in British
Columbia by a considerable margin.
The principal contractor for building the GTPR was
Foley, Welch
& Stewart Co.[FWS], an American company
headquartered in St Paul, Minnesota, and at the time the
largest and most. experienced railway contractor in North
America.
The companys partners were Americans except for
Stewart [1862-1929] who was a Scottish-born Canadian.
Though John Stewarts name came last in the Companys
title, he was the principal and most active partner during the
building of the GTPR. He was an able engineer and
administrator and a born leader, and in World War I eventually
became in charge of all British and Canadian military
railways in France. Foley, Welch & Stewart was an efficient
organisation and also profit smart.
In the construction section
described
in the next paragraph, the sub-contractors charged
the actual cost
of the work and then added their profit margin.
FWS billed GTPR for these expenses and then added a 5%
management commission, an arrangement that did not
encourage economy. Tn the case of the bridge at Pri nce
George, the 5% commission applied only
to the amount of
pier concrete poured and to river freightage. However, these
two
jobs accounted for over $600,000 or 38% of the total
bridge cost, so the 5% add-on was not a trifle -for which
FWS had no input
or incurred expenses.
MAY -JUNE 2000
In this article we are concerned only with the advance
of steel coming westwards through the Rockies. In July 1912
the end-of-steel lay 300 miles west
of Edmonton, at a newly­
created camp and supplies
depot called Tete Jaune Cache,
close to the eastern border of British Columbia. This spot
was chosen because it was at the extreme head of steamboat
navigation on the Fraser River. From here the railway bed
was to follow the river,
which flowed in a north-westerly
direction until it looped south and headed for Prince George.
It was the usual
practice in railroad construction to build
crude tote roads paralleling the intended right-of-way. Along
these roads horse-drawn wagons supplied
work gangs with
materials and basic necessities, so that
work could proceed
at many points and be eventually connected into one ribbon
of roadbed. But because the country was so rugged between
Tete Jaune Cache and Prince George, tote roads were deemed
to
be too expensive and so were replaced by improvised
water transportation down the Fraser River. This was
undertaken in the high water period of May to October, with
trial freightings
in 1911, a little more in 1912 and a crescendo
in 1913. Total tonnage carried in this fashion is not known
but
probably exceeded 70,000 tons; it excluded rails and
track fastenings. When the ice
became thick enough in the
winter, horsedrawn sleds travelled up and down river making
essen.tial .. small-item deliveries to all the work camps strung
out ·a
long .the way.
Everything that was required to build a track bed
[but not the track itself] and maintain a labour force between
Tete
Jaune Cache and Prince George was carried either in
two contractors stemwheelers (launched May 1912 at former
location) , plus other steamboats on contract, or in scows –
each of which made only one downstream trip. The FWS
sternwheelers were called Conveyor and Operator and in
1912 worked downstream from Tete Jaune Cache for nearly
200 miles to a forbidding water obstacle. In 1913 they
worked the lower part
of the river and first reached Prince
George
in early June, where one was soon busy unloading a
70-ton steam shovel to be used to create the railway yards.
These steamers could carry 170-200 tons of freight on an
enclosed main deck and large items, such as dinkie locos
or
steam shovels, perched precariously on a small open
foredeck. They could also accommodate up to about 200
pas sengers.
The scows carried a third of the total tonnage sent
down the river and because they played a vital role in the
building
of the bridge at Prince George, they will be described
in
some detail. It was the responsibility of the principal
contractor to build these scows and it is said that a thousand
of them were put together in the winter of 1912/13, with the
first ones being launched in May 1913
at the rate of 15 to 20
per da
y. They were built at Tete Jaune Cache and measured
about 36 to 40 feet long, were 12 to
14 feet wide, and had 36
inch sides but only drew
12 inches when loaded. Each could
carry 20 to
25 tons of supplies. They were fitted with a long
single sweep at each end, each sweep being handled by two
experienced rivermen.
The scows travelled on average some
30-40 miles a day and since the river ran 315 miles (versus
185
miles by rail) between Tete Jaune Cache and Prince
George it took about 8-10 days to make the total journey.
However the majority of scows landed at varying points
69 CANADIAN RAIL -476
upstream of Prince George. At its prearranged destination,
the
scow was unloaded and then was carefully dismantled
so that the lumber could be further used in some way. These
scows carried all
manner of things from 40-ton steam shovels
to horses, hay, handtools, and hardtack.
The scow crews were
then returned up river by sternwheeler to repeat the
peIformance.
This water journey was no picnic because the river
fell about 500 feet in its 315-mile journey and contained
five major hazards, of which the worst was the Grand Canyon
sited nearly two-thirds
of the way downstream. Its high walls
and constricted channel started with a nasty dogleg, followed
immediately by sucking whirlpools, then a breather of a
millpond before exiting
in a similar manner to the entry. It
created so many
scow wrecks and some drownings that Foley,
Welch
& Stewart institued a special service for the 1913
season. Just before reaching the Canyon, a
scows four-man
crew were
augmented with two canyon pilots who saw the
craft through this bottleneck. In addition the Provincial
Government set up huge warning signs upstream of the worst
hazards. An
FWS lifeboat was stationed in the millpond to
serve as a ferry and to rescue any unfortunates who had
capsized at the entrance and had made it through the
whirlpools. In the three years that the river was used by scows
and private. rafts,· there were 79 recorded drownings but the
total number
probably exceeded a hundred because private
adventurers, unconnected with the railway project and
unknown to anyone, would come to grief in poorly assembled
craft.
FWS was much concerned at the continual loss of
capsized freight and in mid-I 913 said the value of these
losses equalled the provision of a third sternwheeler. All this
detail has been supplied to show how demanding and
hazardous was the business of building the railway between
Tete Jaune
Cache and Prince George.
In the 1912 and 1913
seasons there were between
2,000 and 3,500 men at work between Tete Jaune Cache and
Prince George.
They were aided by about 25 steam shovels
and 40 dinky locos and short sections
of narrow gauge track.
Foley, Welch
& Stewart Co. were responsible for overall
administration, supplies of all types, living quarters, catering,
medical
coverage and like matters, but the construction of
the roadbed itself was handled by four principal sub­
contractors, each much experienced in such work. The last
90 miles of grade preparation to Prince George was awarded
to Sims, Carey
& Co., with w.F. Carey as site manager.
Originally FWS had appointed several small
contractors to build the bridge piers at various locations but
it soon
became apparent they were not qualified to do the
work. This
is the time to explain the basics of building a
bridge like the one
at Prince George. Civil engineers describe
it
as having a sub and a super structure. The foundations,
piers and abutments are the SUB-structure and the steel spans
are the
SUPER-structure and the expertise required to put
them in place is so vastly different that separate contractors
are employed to do the two types
of work. An owner or an
engineering
consulting firm oversees and co-ordinates the
work.
In this instance, the owner -GTPR -gave this task to
its
own bridge engineer, Joseph Legrand, who in turn
delegated on-site supervision to a resident engineer.
RAIL CANADIEN – 476
PRINCE GEORGE
British Columbia
at year 2000
Author
o
I
At the beginning of June 1912 two men from a
Chicago bridge company arrived in a rowboat at Prince
George, having examined all the potential bridge sites en­
route from Tete Jaune Cache.
The outcome was that in July
1912 a new single contractor was appointed to build the
sub-structures of the four crossings of the Fraser from Tete
Jaune Cache to Prince George. These ranged
in length from
a single span to one
of half-a-mile. The chosen contractor
was Bates & Rogers Construction Co. of Chicago, of much
experience and which had handled other contracts on the
GTPR line and for the parent, Grand Trunk Railway; it put
its s
uperintendent, William Ruegnitz, in charge of this
section. The bridge at Prince George was the last of the four
going downstream and during construction was called
Fourth Crossing of the Fraser. It appears that Bates &
Rogers earned $1,999,449 for building the sub-structures of
the four bridges, of which the one at Prince George
contributed $927,000 or 46% of the total. In September 1912,
two months after the contract was signed, a scow floated
down to Prince George, carrying a
GTPR bridge engineer,
five
men, and drilling equipment. Their task was to drill
down through the river bottom and find bedrock. This they
never found, only clay and like material.
The firm selected to fabricate and erect the steelwork
for the super-structures
of these bridges was the Canadian
Bridge Co. of Walkerville, Ontario, a town now absorbed by
the city
of Windsor. This company was formed in 1900 with
capital
of one million dollars, probably of British origin. An
70
N
t
r Fraser R
1/4 In
Mile
MAl -JUIN 2000
up-to-date plant covered 45 acres
and in 1913 employed one thousand
workers and
consumed 40,000 tons
of steel in that year to make bridge
components. It was strategically
sited on the Great Lakes to receive
raw steel and ship-out bridge
components by boat. The company
had its own bridge designers and
draftsmen and it detailed the basic
design and specifications
set out by
the
GTPR bridge engineer, Joseph
Legrand. The Company was
absorbed by Dominion Steel and
Coal Corporation Ltd in 1958 and
became a branch plant; it was closed
in the 1960s.
The GTPR was responsible for
surveying the route and deciding on
its precise location and
it is thought
the initial detailed surveys at Prince
George were carried out
in 1910. A
firm decision had been made by the
end of 1911 both as to grade
alignment and the site of the river
crossing. The tributary Nechako
river joins the Fraser immediately
northeast of downtown Prince
George and in so doing creates·a·
waterways T, with the west arm
being the Nechako and the east the
Fraser.
These two combine and the
Fraser continues southwards to the sea; see map.
The GTPR
decided to cross the Fraser at Prince George, just below the
neck
of the T at about the widest pa.rt of the river in the
immediate vicinity, which would give a perfect entry to its
station and yards and provide ample room for its new townsite
immediately to the south of the yards. A crossing lower
downstream, where the river was half the width, was vetoed
because of land ownership problems and inferior access
alignments.
At the point where the proposed bridge was to be
built, the river
is a half-mile wide and at the time was neatly
divided
in two at midpoint by a long, thin, island, shaped
like a willow leaf and lying pal·allel to the current. To the
east
of this island flowed the Fraser with its deeper channel,
whilst to the west lay the much shallower Nechako channel.
It had been decided that the eastern channel [Fraser] would
be crossed by a
steel bridge of six spans and the western
channel [Nechako] by a conventional timber trestle. The
island, which first came to be known as Railway and now is
called Goat [for a period it was a goat farm], was conveniently
located at the point where the two styles
of bridges met. Its
silt
composition had a surface lower than the bridge deck
and was known to be unstable so at no time was it envisaged
as
some kind of anchoring point, but it became a most
suitable working platform in midstream. It is thought that
this choice
of composite bridge design was partly motivated
by a desire to cut costs as by this time the GTPR had serious
financial
problems.
MAY -JUNE 2000 71 CANADIAN RAIL -476
Aerial photo of Prince George, British Columbia {population 75,OOO}, taken in early I 990s, showing CNs extensive yard and
the downtown. The view looks eastward, with the Nechako tributary
in the foreground, meeting, in the left rear, the Fraser River
which continues to flow southwards at the right edge. The half-mile bridge, the subject
of this article, is clearly visible in the
middle distance.
By kind permission
of Charlotte Aircraft Photos Ltd., Prince George, B. C. Image 592.
Sometime in 1913 bridge engineer Legrand and his
subordinates must have had serious doubts as to whether the
western
channel trestle would be able to withstand winter
ice flows. By then there were at least three winters of local
ice
behaviour known to inhabitants and GTPR employees
and what was seen was not favourable to the chosen design.
What happened was that the Fraser froze solid first, whilst
the
Nechako was still sending down splinters of ice. These
formed into a dam against the Fraser ice and then a water
backup and eventually the whole broke loose in a torrent of
water and big chunks of ice. In late 1913 the chief
construction engineer of the GTPR, B.B.Kelliher, was forced
to the
decision that the western part of the bridge would
have to be built in steel to match the eastern half. This proved
to be a wise move but added over another half million dollars
to the project, dollars that the GTPR could ill afford. All this
is evidenced in Legrands pocket book. Dimensions and costs
are listed separately for the two sections -never consolidated
-and the contracts for the steel super-structure were issued separately,
No 1453 for the eastern section being dated 30th
January 1913 and
No 1536 for the western section on 31 st
January 1914. This second contract
is listed as Extension.
This major change of plan much affected Bates & Rogers,
the sub-structure contractor. By the time of the switch
decision, it had already ferried down the Fraser all its
equipment and materials needed for the eastern half and in
fact had been at work for a couple
of months or more. Instead
of building six piers, it would now have to provide double
that number and would still have to complete its contract by
spring 1914. But relief was at hand. Both GTPR and FWS
assured the company that end-of-steel would reach the
eastern abutment of the bridge in mid January 1914 and that
all
the extra lumber, cement, machinery, food and other
incidentals, needed for the western sub-structure of the
bridge, would be delivered promptly to the site by rail. Panic
over
I In his magazine article, tactful Ruegnitz does not refer
to this major hiccup in the project, but it
must have given
him acute worries.
RAIL CANADIEN -476 72 MAl -JUIN 2000
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Western section of Prince George bridge. From Legrands pocket book.
Legrands pocket book shows the bridges final
design. It was to have 13 through-truss spans with 12 piers
and two abutments. The eastern section was
to be 1,225 ft
long and have six spans. Two
of these were to be of 250ft
length, three
of them of 200ft length, and one draw span of
100ft width. This draw span was to be a vertical lift and was
the second
span from the eastern shore, at a point where
deepest water existed. The western section was 1,428ft
long and consisted of seven spans, each of 200ft length. In
engineering terminology, the through-truss spans were of
the curved-chord Pratt type. The bridge was so designed
that there was a range of clearance between water and the
bottom chord
of the spans of about 32ft and 15ft at minimum
and
maximum flows of the river, since river levels could
vary by some 17ft in a normal twelve-month period. The top
of the piers had a common elevation but because the depth
of the river bottom excavations varied, so did the height of
anyone pier. As a result the piers ranged in depth between
about 60ft and
70 ft.
For the preliminaries of the bridge construction, we
are indebted to Ted Williams
of Prince George, son of George
Williams who was a member
of a GTPR survey party in 1906-
13 covering the routes Prince Rupert to Jasper and Prince
George to Squamish. In 1984 Mr Williams related his fathers
memories, which carried no dates; it is thought the work
commenced in September 1913: They moved a lot of fill
from part of Fort George to the waterline to form the western
approach
to the bridge. Here they set up the piledriver which
carried the first temporary bridge out to the island and
across to the eastern shore. It was a very low bridge and I
dont
knolV why. A 1913 photograph taken at Prince George
of building up the railway yard confirms this type of work, for it shows a Marion steam shovel digging out gravel from
a bank and loading it into a string
of narrow-gauge dump
cars headed
by dinkie loco # 36.
William Ruegnitz,
Bates & Rogers superintendent,
made the point that very careful planning and preparation
was needed as the bridge was being built in the wilderness
and that everything needed to build the
sub-structure and
maintain the labour force had
to come down the Fraser and
would have originated in the States, eastern Canada,
Winnipeg or Edmonton, often taking several weeks in transit.
He had his own fleet
of scows, possibly more than 200 of
them, which were built at Tete Jaune Cache for $250 apiece,
probably by FWS on contract. Some items, such as 40ft
lengths of steel piling and derrick boilers, travelled by
steamer. The kinds
of diverse items needed for the work would
have included:-lumber
of all types and dimensions, saws
and axes, donkey engines, flour and tinned food, shovels,
heating stoves,
cofferdam pumps, spikes and nails, steam
boilers, enamel crockery, pipes and hoses, capstans, blankets,
crane cables, pots and pans, and
wheel barrows. In addition
vast quantities
of firewood had to be stockpiled at the bridge
site, which would be used
to fire steam and hot water boilers,
donkey engines, and heating anel cooking stoves. It is
presumed that Bates
& Rogers labour force reached the work
site
as passengers on stemwheelers and that the scows were
handled
by river boatmen.
Ruegnitz will be quoted verbatim from his
October
1914 article in several places and this first quotation describes
how
cement, packed in wooden barrels, reached the site.
Cement was delivered by scows that were from 5 to J 4 days
on the way. False bot/oms, covered with straw to absorb the
moisture, served as a floor
to receive the cement. The sides
MAY -JUNE 2000 73 CANADIAN RAIL -476
View of work in progress in January 1914, looking east. At left is the tote bridge, in the centre coffer dams are being built to
create the piers, whilst at right
is the brand new temporary trestle bridge. This trestle bridge will carry rail traffic for the next
nine months, whilst the permanent steel bridge
is being built. The very first train to cross it is the track-layer shown here.
The British Columbia Archives. Print D-07398.
and the ends of the cargo were also protected by straw,
while the top was covered with a heavy oiled canvas. Run­
boards were
provided to protect the cargo from the boot
calks worn by the rivermen. From the time the cement left the
mill until stored on the job, it was handled eight times.
The
first six piers and the eastern abutment needed close to 1,700
tons
of cement and would have come down the Fraser in
about
70 scows. Like FWS, it is known that Bates & Rogers
had its fair share
of lost cargoes, which included cement.
From May
to August 1913, Bates & Rogers built its
work site, storage area and
camp for 600 men on the mid­
river island which would be bisected by the future bridge.
The bunk houses were wood-frame buildings and their sides
were partly covered with heaped-up dirt to keep out the
cold. Storehouses were crudely framed log structures covered
with tarps. An auxiliary camp
to accommodate 100 men was
established on the east bank, because
of the great danger in
taking labourers across the main channel before a tote bridge
had been completed. We know
by inference that there were
boilers
supplying both steam and hot water on the island
and the
east bank and also a steam-driven electrical generator
that provided lighting at each pier site and
in the two camps.
Ruegnitz made no
mention of catering services but a well
run
cookhouse with ample and varied food was pivotal to
any construction project, especially this one in frigid
weather. All food came down the Fraser in sacks, barrels or
tins but was augmented by fresh beef supplied by the
abbattoir of Pat Burns & Co. on the edge of Prince George,
which in turn bought its cattle from the Cariboo to the south.
There would have been a primitive first aid post on site but
an FWS doctor and small hospital [opened February 1914]
were to be found on the
west bank in Prince George. It is
presumed the men would sometimes frequent the numerous
bars in the town in their limited. off-.duty hours.
The needed
beer and liquor were delivered from the south at Ashcroft on
the Canadian Pacific Railway, 300 miles away.
Unlike the
gangs who laboured in the isolated right-of-way camps, there
was more than a hint
of civilisation close at hand. In 1914 a
local census showed 1,784 persons lived in the new
GTPR
townsite, whilst about another thousand lived in two older
adjoining townsites -that is older by four to eight years !
For clarification, it should be explained that three
bridges were built at Prince George by Bates & Rogers. The
first was a relatively crude wooden tote bridge, wide enough
to take horse-drawn wagons, and low to the water so that it
and the lips
of the cofferdams were somewhat at the same
level. This was positioned upstream of the piers to be built.
The second bridge was a typical railway trestle and was built
just downstream of the pier sites. The third bridge was the
permanent steel structure. The railway trestle was quite
substantial as it had to carryall GTPR traffic for a period of
up to a year and its deck was of the same height as the future
,C
r
~,
RAIL CANADIEN -476 74
[ .–,~–. , .. -~–.. -,
o
,–….
I )
-.. .. –
GFtAr:t? ~RLJNI~P~OI~ RAILWAY.
, __ . __ .N~la __ l.lne , ®
__ ~ .. ~ _____ .. __ ._ _ _ __ … ____ _Mllos
Total length of brld&e between parapcts-_12_:; 7.=-_2::_, __ ,
Span 8 : J.::.25Q..Ihra.1r:I/.J Ljpon.~j::!~~;:a..Inn~_,!.t.1L.J:p~rz._
…. ___ r ~1@.:..I:!zr..a..J.r..LU…r…rpaos rtS}Lr:i£j—I2D_~anq/~
Base of Rail to high water .. ________ · ____ · ____ …. __ ·_ ,–
Sample of best copy page in bridge engineer Legrands pocket book, showing final
actual costs al the end of 1914 for the East section containing the lift span, Actllal size,
MAl -JUIN 2000
difficult task to drive the
remainder of the bridge and it was
not until January
1914 that it was
entirely complet
ed. The rivel; with
a current
of 4-112 to 5 mp.h. and
filled with ice, presented a
formidable obstacle not only
against this bridge but seriOllsly
hindered the p
lacing of the coffer
dams. The trestle bridge was
started a little later and a
newspaper report
of 31st December
1913 said there was much difficulty
in driving the piles and that a pile
hammer was broken daily
or every
other day. However, a few days later
it was
reported that the work is
well advanced and on 21 st
January 1914
the rail way trestle
bridge was complete.
In the meantime the track­
laying machine had made
substantial progress on its way
westward to Prince George. The

Third Crossing of the Fraser at
Hansard (46 rail miles east of P.G.)
had track laid across it on 26th
November 1913 and Willow River
(20 rail miles east) was reached on
31st December. The track-layer
Pioneer appeared on the east bank
of the Fraser at Prince George on
12th January 1914 and then had to
kick its heels for the next ten days.
Seven Dominion Government
auditors arrived at Prince George
at the same time, having examined
earth and track work done in this
sector.
It is to be remembered that
the Government subsid ized the
creation of the railway by paying
an
agreed sum per mile, and the
GTPR paid the balance from its
own funds, so
it was essential for
the
former to check adherence to
the specifications before a
cheque
was issued.
The ten days from 21 st January
1914 to month-end were ones of
much excitement and some drama
to all those who worked or resided
at Prince George.
The track-layer
moved onto the trestle bridge on
steel bridge because it utilized the same track approaches.
Ruegnitz comments on the building of the tote or work
station bridge. The tote bridge from which all work was
directed was started in Sept
1913 [from the west bank] and
was carried across as
far as navigation laws permilled. Later
when floating ice
stopped navigation, it was found a very
the 22nd and reached the western
shore on the evening
of the 26th. This means it was used to
lay the deck
of the bridge as well as place the rail. The next
day, in
17F degrees below and by prearrangement, it laid
track as far as the new townsite where a
short ceremony was
held at 2.00 pm, in front of over a thousand people. The
GTPR had finally arrived at Prince George and FWS declared
MAY -JUNE 2000 75 CANADIAN RAIL -476
View taken from the west bank of the Fraser River looking upstream on a date presumed to be in mid-1914. Span No. 13 has
been erected. The river
is in flood.
British Columbia Archives. Print B-00315.
a half-holiday toeelebrate the event. But there was a joker
in the deck. On the very next day, the Nechacko broke its
ice dam and the debris removed four piles and damaged 25
others
of the railway trestle. Several scows also piled up
against it and for a time it looked as
if a section would be
carried away. This incident certainly underscored the GTPR
decision that the permanent crossing must be
one totally of
steel. The track-layer was now stranded and denied its supply
of ties and rails. so the trestle bridge was very promptly
repaired and returned to service on the 31st January.
Roadbed construction and tracklaying continued
westwards and on 7th April 1914, at an insignificant spot 93
rail miles west
of Prince George. the eastern crews met up
with the Pacific western crews and the Grand
Trunk Pacific
Railway finally had its main line track in place.
Unfortunately, the chief promotor of the Grand Trunk Pacific,
and
founder of Prince Rupert, was not around to see this
moment of triumph. Almost exactly two years earlier, on
15th April 1912, Charles Hays, President and General
Manager of the GTPR , had drowned in the sinking of the
Titanic. It was largely his vision and tenacity -and a streak
of ruthlessness -that made this particular dream come true,
so linking Winnipeg and eastern Canada with Prince Rupert
and hopefully creating more trade with the Orient. We now
come to the most incredible aspect of this
enterprise. Winters at Prince George range from about -IOC
to
-40C and the wind chill factor can make it drop even
lower. In the lower ranges these temperatures are quite
inimical to man and the pouring of concrete. Yet the pouring
of the concrete piers was carried out in this weather and was
done continuously day and night, six days a week. until the
job was done! These punishing conditions and schedule
were created by the need to do the work in the low water
period of November to April and to ensure that the railways
opening
in mid 1914 was not impeded by the lack of a vital
bridge. Even today, with improved technology, mixing and
pouring
of concrete is not recommended in below freezing
temperatures unless
special precautions are taken.
Ruegnjtz describes the work scheduling.
A complete
day and night organisation was maintained
for the entire
work, each
pier having a complete plant layout as well as
an individual crew. Night
and day foremen for each pier
worked togethel; shifting their crews turnabout every two
weeks. Each pier foreman reported to the general foreman,
there being one general foreman
for each shift. The general
foremen reported to superintendent Houston, who was
located on the work. The latter in turn submit/ed a detailed
written progress report
to Bates & Rogers head office in
Chicago each week.
RAIL CANADIEN -476
Soundings of the river bottom had shown it consisted
of a gravel bed with an underlying strata of very stiff sandy
clay with layers of quicksand. Twelve cofferdams were
needed for the twelve piers and each site presented a slightly
different challenge but the construction method was
essentially the same. The river bottom was excavated of its
gravel by
clam shell and then the gravel was stored until
being used in the
concrete mix. Next, wooden sheet piles
were driven into the river bottom to
make an oblong box or
cofferdam. Piers
I and 2, closest to the eastern shore and the
ones to hold the lifting span, were the deepest
of the twelve
and
here the contractor was forced to use 40ft long steel
pilings to make the cofferdams.
With the
water still inside the cofferdams, the base
was further excavated by clamshell, and then into the botto.m
of each cofferdam some 200 wooden pilings were driven
into the substrata for about 20ft depth. These were then cut
off flush t6 the ground and a layer of concrete wa:s then

floated on top of them to form the base of a pier. The
concrete was allowed to set for two to six days in water and
then the
cofferdam was pumped dry. Wooden forms were
then built inside the cofferdam to create the shape of the pier
and at this point the work became super critical as the
concrete had to be very carefully mixed and cured in
acceptable temperatures. The first cofferdam to be started
was for pier # 6 lying immediately
east of Goat Island, for
the simple reason that it was the
most accessible.
What better than to quote the
super himself. For
the Fraser channel, two concrete plants were used, one on
the island and one on the east bank. Gravel was taken from
the river and stored
in a network of hollow boxes into which
steam was turned, thus keeping the gravel hot even during
weather 50 F below. Cement was stored at both mixer plants.
The concrete
waS taken.from the mixer to the piers [I through
7] in buckets on cars handled by an endless cable. It was
delivered so quickly that it was not affected by the cold
before being put into the forms. On the Nechaco [sic]
channel [piers 8 -12J, enough gravel was obtained .from the
excavation
of each piel; and a mixer was set up at each
cofferdam; the only material to be hauled being cement.
To
prevent freezing, the gravel was heated as
mentioned above. Water was also heated, the mixed concrete
coming
to the forms very warm. The forms were entirely
covered by heavy oiled canvas tarps, these extending from
the top
of the coffer dams to the top of the forms, so completely
enclosing a pier. Between the
forms and canvas covering,
fires were kept
in small stoves or steam heat was furnished
in radiators built on the work. Both methods were good but
steam was preferred and used where there was an available
supply on account
of danger of fire from the stoves. Steam
was always turned in at the top
of a pier when completed.
Heating was continued
for three to seven days after pouring
was complete and
the forms were stripped in from seven to
ten days. The results obtained were remarkable with the
concrete being smooth
and of a uniform coloUl: There are
no indications that frost penetrated anywhere.
The precise date when all the 12 piers at Prince
George were complete and ready to bear steel is not known
but an early April 1914 photo, taken looking east from the
76 MAl -JUIN 2000
mid-island, shows completed piers but no steel work.
Ruegnitz does say that work on all four bridges under his
supervision was complete by May 1914. Our knowledge
about the erection of the super-structure is incomplete as
Canadian Bridge Company records about it probably have
not survived; in any case they have not been located.
However GTPR bridge engineer Legrand made a meticulous
note about every single railcar of bridge components
dispatched by Canadian Bridge Co from Walkerville [now
part of Windsor, OntarioJ and from this record certain helpful
deductions can be made. This kind of information has not
been seen in railway literature and so is worth a
paragraph
here.
The first contract [#1453J for the eastern section of
the bridge stipulated that Canadian Bridge Co. was
responsible for the cost of shipping the components from its
plant to
Fort William on the Great Lakes. This involved a
nearly 600-mile trip by steamer on lakes Huron and Superior.
At Fort William [now Thunder Bay], 2,870 tons of steel
were placed on flat cars for the 1,726 mile journey across
mid
Canada; a typical load was 29 tons per car. Ontario
dispatch dates ranged from 1st December 1913 to 5th June
1914 but two-thirds of the order had left Windsor by the end
of February. The log even showed ownership of the cars
used, III being supplied by Grand Trunk, 3 byGTPR, and
the remainder by four other railways.
Materials for the western section of the bridge
[Contract #1536J were first shipped on 4th May 1914 and
the last left Windsor on 13th July. This was a good fabrication
performance considering the Company did not receive the
order until the first week
in February. This time because of
the urgency, materials were free-on-board at Windsor and
all 102 cars were loaded there.
They carried a total of 2,916
tons of steel and travelled 2,760 miles to the job site. Thirty
five cars
were shipped in May, 61 in June and 6 in JUly, with
car ownership ,as follows: 88 for GTR, 5 for GTPR, 5 for
NYC, 2 for CPR, and one each for B & 0 and PENN. Bridge
components therefore totalled 5,786 tons and were shipped
on 224 railcars. Rail freight, at 1I2c per ton per mile, came to
$65,014 and was paid for by FWS. Bates
& Rogers, the sub­
structure
contractor, was also allowed to charge FWS with
the cost
of freighting all its supplies down the Fraser, which
came to a whopping $324,458
! This did not faze FWS one
bit for it simply passed on the cost to GTPR. The price tag of
building a long bridge in isolated country came dearly with
delivery
costs at nearly $400,000 which represented a qU31ier
of the total cost of the bridge.
Due to the lack of a primary account or documentation
of the erection of the super-structure, the following
description is based upon conjecture and engineering
practice of the time and so must be regarded as this authors
interpretation. One of the research problems encountered
was that several bridge-completion dates surfaced, all of
unknown origin and some contradictory. In due course it
becam
e apparent that most related to different phases of the
work and parts
of the operation, eg: temporary trestle bridge,
east segment steel bridge, entire bridge, lifting span
operational, cantilevered public roads added, structure­
complete in all regards.
MAY -JUNE 2000
It was standard practice for a bridge
company, after fabrication of each
component, to assemble each span at its
plant, using nuts and bolts as the fixer,
to
ensure that all was a perfect fit. Before
dismantling, each piece was coded and
numbered .with paint and cross-referenced
to the erection drawings, so as to guide the
erectors at the work site. Pieces were broken
down so as
not to exceed the length of a
railway flat car and were
of a weight that a
travelling steam crane could handle at its
maximum radius, say not exceeding 35ft
length and three tons weight.
77 CANADIAN RAIL -476
The Canadian Bridge erecting crew
arrived from Ontario via the newly built
railway line on 14th March 1914 and
proceeded to set up their camp and
equipment. By the beginning of April they
were ready to start work from the eastern
abutment, at the time when the river ice first
showed signs
of breaking-up. Their first task
was to
piledri ve false-work into the river
underneath
what was going to be span # I.
This span was then assembled by having a .
selfpropelled steam
crane on the adjacent
temporary railway trestle position pieces.
These were hot rivetted, all the while the
The first stern wheeler to pass under the lifted span was the Operator, owned
by contractor Fol
ey, Welch & Stewart, shown here proceeding down rivel: On
this print can be discerned the words Opened
for [river} traffic, 25 Oct. 1914.
Note the bridge erectors temporary travelling carrie I; resting on span #1, used
to assemble· the lifting components of the draw span Note also the (somewhat
cropped) handwritten inscription bridge at Fort George.
Courtesy
of Pioneer ,Postcards, Kelmvna, B.G.
falsework below supported the growing structure. At
completion, the ends of the span rested on rollers to allow
the steelwork
to expand or contract in varying temperatures,
and the
falsework ceased to carry any weight. The next
westward-seeking span, the # 2 and lifting span, was built in
like manner but as a plain though-girder without its lifting
superstructure and weights. A photo taken from the east shore
and dated 27th
May 1914 shows four spans erected which
suggests an erection rate
of about two weeks per span. Some
two weeks later on 14th June 1914, Legrand, GTPR chief
bridge engineer, records in his notebook first train crossed
bridge.
How can one explain what appears to be the
impossible? The answer lies with the discontent the GTPR
was generating for closing the navigable waters, which had
its seasonal opening about 1st
May. The temporary railway
trestle
shut off any movement on the river, so that no scow or
raft
could pass downstream or a motor launch upstream ..
The steel bridge taking form immediately upstream also
stopped all stern wheeler traffic because of insufficient
clearance. The GTPR was already embroiled in litigation
with local steam boat companies for arbitarily closing the
upper
Fraser at Hansard with a low-deck bridge and so was
sensi ti ve to the issue. [For full details
of legal battle see
p.212-14
of A Thousand Blunders] Something had to be
done in a hurry and the solution was
commendable. After
span # 5 was in position, the temporary railway trestle had a
curved
piece inserted in the area to be occupied by span #6,
which led eastwards
to the west end of span # 5. The authors
basis for
all this is the time frame and a 1914 westward­
looking photo showing a curving piece of trestle in the
foreground made
of freshly sawn lumber dovetailed to the
trestle of more weathered timbers. No doubt this work
interrupted all rail traffic for about a week but in the longer
term it kept trains and river craft moving. Very quickly the
eastern portion
of the railway trestle and all falsework under
the steel
spans were removed making the Fraser channel
navigable to all craft except sternwheelers.
It is possible that at this point the erectors moved
to
the west bank and commenced assembling span # 13, as
being more convenient. This sequence is supported by
another photo, but there is the possibilty that the glass plate
negative has been reverse printed aDd shows span # 1 in
position! It should be added that no work on spans 7 through
13
could have started before the end of May because the
first pieces for them were not dispatched from Ontario until
4th May. However, spans 4 through 13 were of identical
200ft lengths and were interchangeable in terms of sequence
of erection. Work proceeded until all spans except # 6 were
built. Then at this point all rail traffic was suspended for two
rushed weeks whilst
theS trestle piece was removed and
span # 6 was inserted. Curiously, there
is no date anywhere
for this momentolls event when the steel bridge was complete
and a train ran across it, but it is calculated
to be the end of
September 1914. At this point the temporary trestle, that had
carried rail traffic for all
or part of its length since February,
was dismantled.
It has to be remembered that World War I
had started in the previous month and news
of it tended to
oust local happenings.
The steel erectors now turned their attention to the
lifting span which had all the additional steel work and lifting
mechanism added. A photo showing an FWS steamer passing
under the raised span carries the notation
open for [river]
traffic Oct 25.
It is believed that November and December
RAIL CANADIEN -476 78 MAl -JUIN 2000
by the fact that the very first boxcar of
fish was dispatched from Prince Rupert
on 30th September
19 I 4, by fast train
to
Toronto.
The 1912 design of the lifting
span, built in 1914, was unusual and
View of bridge from east bal1k in Octobel; 1999. Note the loaded coal train passing
retpains the only example in British
Columbia; it was also the only draw
bridge owned by the GTPR. It
provided a nominal opening of 100ft
width and a vertical clearance
of 50ft
above high water, which meant that it
had a maximum vertical movement
of
about 35ft. It was designed by
Legrand, with the active assistance
of
Canadian Bridge Co., since this firm
would have the most up-to-date
knowledge about this rare bridge
form. The first lifting bridge in North
over it. Photo by author.
were occupied in cantilevering the public roadways on either
side of the bridge. An unconfirmed source says the bridge
was fully completed about 5th January 1915. This is
supported by the recollections of a Prince George old timer
who in 1984 sa
id the bridge was complete by late 1914 or
early 1915. There is one final date of 22nd January 1915
that appears without explanation in Legrands notebook.
Was this the date when the bridge was formally handed over
from the contractors to G
TPR ?
A 1971 article appeared in a
railway supplement
of the Prince George.
newspaper Citizen, which by its prose
and detail, suggested it was copied from
something written soon after the bridge
was
completed.
America was built in Chicago in 1894.
In 1914 another lifting bridge was being built over the North
Thompson River at Kamloops by the Canadian Northern
Railway. It was similar in its function in that it provided an
opening
of 93ft and a lift of 55ft above high water, but the
method
of raising the span was quite different. At Kamloops
there were two side towers and over these were draped cables
carrying concrete-block counterweights. The Prince George
design dispensed with the use of cables. To the upper
The dates it provides are:
excavation started 21st Aug. 1913; last
pier finished by 29 May 1914; erection
commenced about 1st April 1914 &
completed about 5th Jan. 1915. The
article usefully also contains the
following. The loading figures for the
railway track are composed
of a train
headed by two 180-ton locomotives,
followed by cars giving a reaction of
4,750 lbs per lineal foot. Each
cantilevered roadway is figured to
su
pport 4 tons per axle, 8ft centres, or
100 Ibs per square foot of floor. The
datal sequence of the building of the
Design details of the lifting span which has been secured shut since 1954.
Photo by author.
super-structure of this bridge, described in the paragraphs
above, seems plausible. It would appear the month of
September was used to fine-tune the introduction of GTPR
through-services from Edmonton in October. Primitive
revenue trains commenced to run between Prince George
and Prince Rupert in the first week of the month to get the
line into running order. In mid-month it
is estimated that the
last span,
# 6, was started to be put in place and by month­
end the bridge would be complete. This scenario
is supported extremities
of the lifting [Strauss truss] span were attached
two pivoted arms that carried counterweights.
The weight of
the span and the weight of the counterweights just about
cancelled each other out and all that was needed was a small
electric motor that caused the span to rise through a rack and
pinion drive. Prince George had its own private electric
utility by 1913 and this innovative use of electricity in the
fledging town
is mentioned in an inconspicuous paragraph
of the Fort George Herald dated 19th Dec. 1914. The whole
MAY -JUNE 2000 79 CANADIAN RAIL -476
design was quite mechanically
sophisticated. It also automatically
closed the six
guard-gates across
the
track and vehicle road ways
and slowly altered the oil-lit river
lamps from red to
green, for the
benefit
of the river steamers. The
costs of this moving span were
estimated to be $98,000. It is
doubtful
whether the lifting span
was
ever used after 1920 and in
1954 the Board
of Transport Com­
missioners permitted Canadian
National Railways to make the
span a fixed one. Prior to this, CNR
had a statutory duty
to lift the span
once a year to show that navigation
rights existed and the mechanism
worked. This relaxation date of
19)54 seems tardy when compared
to an identical
situation at CNR
Kamloops where the lift span was
immobilized in 1937.
View of eastbound cantilevered roadway in 1996. This roadway has not been used by the
It should be noted that it
was a costly frustration to railway
companies, advancing into remote
public since ·1987. Photo by the author
and largely unsettled country, to be compelled by
government to incorporate
draw spans into bridges which
crossed supposed navigable waters. Before the GTPR
surveyors arrived, only one pioneering sternwheeler had
made a single
penetration of the Fraser or Nechako rivers
upstream
of Prince George, simply because the region was
populated only by small numbers of native Indians and
trappers and offered no commerce. Anywhere the rivers went
the future railway would provide a better and faster service,
so it seemed pointless that the Dominion Government would
demand a draw span at Prince George -but it did. This
situation also occurred on the Columbia and Thompson
rivers in British Columbia and in these cases the stern wheeler
traffic died with the coming of the railways. In lieu of
providing a draw span, it would have made better econom.ic
sense for the Government to have compelled the railways to
make a compensatory payment
to the steamboat companies
equal to the latters profits for the last season prior
to a fixed
bridge being built.
The Provincial Government saw the GTPR bridge as
a means to carry year-round road traffic, then minimal, across
the Fraser.
It would replace the public ferry installed in
1911about one mile downstream of the railway bridge.
Needless to say, this ferry did not operate when the river
became frozen.
Because the railway bridge was so long, it
was impractical to plank the rail track space and allow road
traffic and pedestrians to use it, so the Government suggested
that two roadways,
one on either side, be cantilevered out
from the stmcture. The GTPR was receptive to the idea,
providing that the Province paid for the building costs and
the upkeep of the roadways. Between a lack of
communication on both sides and the sudden change in
bridge design, things grew testy. The Government had
$150,000 maximum in mind and was startled when in the
spring of 1914 the GTPR said the Government share was
$420,000 out of a total cost of about $1,255,000. The
Government said no way and had a consultant provide an
independent costing which came out at $268,474. At the
beginning
of 1915 there was a Mexican standoff with the
GTPR refusing to open the roadways, each 12ft wide with
grid metal flooring, until the proper price was paid.
After
more negotiation and vocal local pressure the roadways were
opened in the late summer of 1915 with a Government
payment of $150,000. After more bickeling another $200,000
was paid to GTPR in 1918. At first only the downstream road
was used as
it involved no crossing of the tracks but by
1924, because
of the volume of road vehicles, both roadways
were put into single-direction use, with westbound traffic
using the upstream side. There was no room for a sidewalk
on each roadway, so at a later date, projecting refuges were
built on the outer faces at about 100 ft intervals to allow
pedestrians to step aside when motor vehicles passed by.
This improvement was undertaken and paid for by the
provincial Department of Highways.
On 31st October 1987 the Provincial Goverment
opened a four-lane concrete highway bridge at a short
distance downstream for surburban and Alberta-bound traffic
and closed the CNR bridge to the public
at the same time.
The roadways still exist but are gated and have found a use
as
CN maintenance access ways. Goat Island can still be
seen, lying between the CN and the new Yellowhead road
bridge,
but it has partly eroded and partly moved further
downstream so no longer lies under the railway bridge as it
did 85 years ago.
The only bridge now shared by rail and
road traffic
in B.C. lies 45 miles to the east of Prince George
at Hansard, which is at rail Mile 99.1 from McBride in the
CN Fraser Subdivision. Vehicle traffic is light, as it is a minor
road, with crossings controlled
by a bridge signalman.
RAIL CANADIEN -476 80 MAl -JUIN 2000
three times per week to
McBride and were primarily
used to service GTPR and FWS
needs for the rail staff and
camps strung out along the
way, but they were happy to
accept fare-paying passengers.
These were mixed trains that
consisted of one or two
colonist coaches and various
freight cars. Departure times
would have been firm but the
remainder of the schedule
would have been elastic. At the
same time the GTPR institued
a
daily service of improved
quality between McBride and
Edmonton, with one sleeper
added between Jasper and
Edmonton. By 13th June 1914
the line was fully ballasted and
the track aligned between
Edmonton and Prince George
and about this time freight
service was instituted between
these two points. By mid-1914
the GTPR had a makeshift
depot and a permanent freight
shed at the foot
of George Street
in
the new Prince George
townsite but it was not until
1922 that a
permanent depot
was built at the foot of Quebec
Street.
Reference must be
made to a branchline railway
at Prince George that should
have commenced running in
the second half
of 1915. The
GTPR had the intent back in
about 1907
to run a subsidiary
line to Vancou ver and had
surveys made accordingly. But
by 1911
the GTPR did not
have the financial resources
and the project was beyond it.
A highly unusual arrangement
then
took place when Foley,
Welch & Stewart Co. offered
to build the line, and then own
and manage it. This move was
favoured by the Provincial
Government which wanted to
see an open up the hinterland
railway in place and offered
generous land grants and cash
subsidies per mile of line built.
It all made sense to the three
principal groups involved and
at the end
of 1913 when the
GTPR grade had reached
Prince George, FWS simply
wheeled most of its labour
force and equipment to the left
and southwards to grade the
branchline, which had now
acquired the name of Pacific
Great Eastern Railway. At its
northern terminal, this line
would reach the newly
emerging city of Prince
Interior view of the spans, looking west, October 1999.
Photo
by the auth01:
The spring thaw of 1914
showed up a lot of grade
deficiences for the 250 miles
west
of Prince George to Smithers and it was not until the
end
of August that it was deemed fit for revenue traffic. At
the beginning
of September 1914 two mixed-trains a week
commenced
to run from Prince George, taking three days to
reach Prince Rupert and stopping nightly at Endako and
Smithers. This leisurely pace between Prince George and
Smithers was due
to the unsatisfactory condition of the road
bed. At the
same time at Prince George the three-trains-a­
week to and from the east continued but on an accelerated
schedule. On 6th June 1915 a quality through-passenger
service commenced with three trains a week in both directions
between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert, plus two B.C. way­
freights per week. During World War I freight traffic slowly
built-up
in B.C. but only amounted to abollt a fifth of what
was hauled on the Prairies. Westbound freights were
lightweight and carried what was needed by the few small
communities scattered along 700 miles
of track. Eastbound
freights were much heavier. Random
comment and the odd
statistic
suggest that for 1919 over 400,000 tons of freight
moved eastwards
to Edmonton and beyond in about 15,000-
17,000 cars.The majority of this freight was lumber and
shingles with one statistic quoting 11,716 loaded lumber
cars. A profitable traffic in fresh and canned fish had
George by using the new GTPR bridge and, under a 1912
agreement, would share the GTPR depot. By mid-1914 seven
thousand men
were at work along the projected 467-mile
line and south from Prince George the grading reached
Cottonwood Canyon, IS miles short of Quesnel. The dock
and rail spur for the FWS stern wheelers at Prince George lay
a mile up the Nechako, but cannily FWS hauled out its two
steamers for the winter of 1913-14 below the ~ew GTPR
bridge under construction.
This allowed FWS t6 use them in
1914 to wbrk the Fraser for 100 miles downstream to deli ver
construction supplies.
There is no doubt that this line would
have opened by the end
of 1915, but it was not to be. The
European Great War broke out in August 1914 and by the
year-end British investment capital, upon which FWS relied,
had dried up.
Construction faltered and then stopped and
the rest
is PGE history.
Passenger train service eastward out
of Prince George
commenced the first week
of February 1914, using the trestle
bridge, but was
of a very rudimentary kind. There was no
station at Prince George and the track so recently laid east
of
it was not ballasted for nearly 100 miles since all the gravel
pits
were frozen; as a result, trains on this section would
have been limited
to 10-15 miles an hour. Trains were run
MAY -JUNE 2000
developed since 1915 and in 1919
amounted to 488 boxcar loads and about
6,000 smaller shipments. Though the
National Transcontinental Railway and
the GTPR became a transcontinental line
in a
geographical sense, they never
became one economically because Prince
Rupert never blossomed into the
equivalent of Vancouver. In the 1920
consolidation of the GTPR and the
Canadian Northern Railway, the latters
Vancou vel depot became the ocean
terminal of the system and the line to
Prince Rupert (hiving off at Red Pass
Junction) became a branch line and has
remained so to this day.
81 CANADIAN RAIL -476
And just how much did the GTPR
bridge at Prince George
cost? Fortun­
ately, for historys sake, Legrands pocket
book supplies the answer. There are many
pages
of calculations, the estimates are
in somewhat of a rough hand but the final
actual is in neatly drafted figures. All
The eastern end of the bridge carrying a loaded coal train bound for Prince Rupert,
in October
1999. Photo by the author
the details are listed separately for the eastern section of six
spans and the western section
of seven spans. Some of the
estimates differentiate between the bridge with and without
a roadway and have this kind
of range:
Legrands submission. Legrands pocket book permits the
cost of the bridge to be broken down into major groupings
a
nd these are listed in the Appendix. One of the major costs
listed
is titled Overhaul. This word was used in its original
sense
of to haul. or draw something
acro
ss or over and not with the modern
usage
of renovation, and refers to the
expense of freighting everything
needed to build the sub-structure down
the Fraser River in scows. Not
surprisingly, this expense claimed one­
fifth
of the total cost of the bridge. It is
thought that it cost about $110 million
to
construct the GTPR line between
Winnipeg and Prince Rupert, so the
bridge at Prince George absorbed 1.5%
of the total
Evening light displays the upstream side of the Prince George bridge to good effect,
as
we see in this view taken in 1998. Courtesy of the Slide Farm, Vancouver, B.C.
A subsiduary of the GTPR was
the
GTP Telegraph Co. Ltd which
opened a public telegraph service
between Winnipeg and Prince Rupert
on 21 November 1914. The initial
wiring hookup took place on 19th April
of the same year, just two weeks after
the last spike ceremony. The
companys telegraph reached Prince
George on 18th February 1914 and by
the end
of the month the public there
East section, without roadway: Range $715,000 to $793,000
East
section with roadway: Range $830,000 to $1,105,000
West section with roadway: $409,000 to $520,000
Actual costs, which are undated, came to $1,612,000.
It is
understood that Dominion Government auditors
approved payments for the sub-structure of $933,663 and
$673,131 for the super-structure, totalling $1,606,794, thus
disallowing only $5,206 or about
311 Oths of one percent of
could send messages eastwards.The wires for this telegraph
system were carried across
the GTPR steel bridge above the
track at truss-top height but,
to clear the maximum elevation
of the lifting span, the wires had to be taken vertically up the
sides
of this span to high masts and then horizontally across
the gap.
The original insulators used in this trans-provincial
line are still sometimes seen in second-hand stores;
they are
of white porcelain or tinted green glass and carry ownership
initials.
RAIL CANADIEN -476
IIu ( ,.
. . ~.I.,{ JU.I:
I,( 11/
The bridge received deserved publicity in
1999, being on the front cover
of the Prince
George telephone book. Photo
by the author
Today this bridge carries more traffic than could have
been
envisaged 85 years ago. Principal through-traffic is
grain and coal moving westward and Iwnber products moving
in both directions. Prince George generates a fair amount of
traffic itself as it boasts three pulp mills, 12 sawmills, a veneer
plant, and a small oil refinery. It has to be mentioned that
one of the pulpmills has its own railway that crosses the
Fraser on its private bridge some five miles upstream from
the bridge
of this article; total trackage is nearly 10 miles, of
which over half is its main line connecting the mill to the
CNR mainline. Reverting to CN traffic, between eight and
16 freight trains move over the CN bridge every 24 hours in
either direction. Passenger traffic consists of three VIA trains
per week in each direction, running between Jasper and
Prince Rupert year-round, and always over-nighting at Prince
George. They are mainly operated for the benefit
of tourists
because
of the superb scenery. The bridge is located at Mile
145.0 [at western abutment]
in the Fraser Subdivision, with
Prince George depot at Mile 146.1. The bridge itself
is within
yard limits so crossing speeds do
not exceed 15mph; it is
frequently part occupied by switchers and their cars because
the first switch at the east end
of Prince George yard is sited
20 paces from the bridges west abutment. One can only
conclude this article by restating what was said at the
beginning, that this half-mile long bridge was built in epic
and heroic circumstances and its history needs to be
documented, remembered, and marvelled at !
82 MAl -JUIN 2000
Appendix of Technical Data
Building Dates: Constructed between September 1913 and
January 1915.
Time frame: 8 months for sub-structure and 8
months for super-structure with one-month overlap
in April
1914.
Length between parapet
s:
east section 12272, west section 14318, total 2658 10
Length between bearing points
east section
12226, west section 14270, total 26496
(One half mile measures 2,640ft, so bridge length exceeds
this
by a few feet).
Width: Outer edge
of spans at 20ft; 2 roadways each of 12ft;
total 44ft.
Spans: Total
of 13 through-truss spans; two at 250ft; ten at
200ft, and one lifting (draw) span
of 100ft which ascended
max.
of 35ft to provide 50ft river clearance above high water
level.
Piers: Total
of 12 (numbered from east bank) and 2 abutments;
all
of concrete.
Bridge capacity: Single track of railway; plus two
cantilevered 12ft wide roadways in use 1915-87.
Bridge location: In datal sequence described
as:c Mile 467.5
P.R.E. [stands for
Prince Rupert East]; Mile 1277.2; Mile
1278.8; Mile 1279.5 [from Winnipeg which was Mile 0].
Changing mileages reflected track changes/refined
measurements over time. Currently Mile 145.0 from
McBride, Fraser Subdivision.
Elevations: Main channel river bottom -1,823ft above sea
level; Low water 1,839ft; High water
1,858ft; Rail level – 1,874ft, 4 in.
Cost: by structure and
job materials as per table below.
* In LeGrands pocket book, $324,458 for overhaul was
allocated to East section only, but for this review it seems
more realistic
to apportion equally between East and West
sections.
Cost: by Unit
or Total Q.uantites
Excavating: 20,942 cubic ya
rds @ $10.73 cub/yd. Concrete:
14,476 cubic yards
@ $19.50 + 5% FWS commission cub/
TABLE OF COSTS FOR BUILDING GTP BRIDGE AT PRINCE GEORGE
ITEM EAST SECTION WEST SECTION TOTAL PERCENT
Sub-structure 559,771 367,229 927,000 57.5
Super-structure
370,000 315,000 685,000 42.5
Totals
929,771 682,229 1,612,000 100.0
Excavating 154,735 62,340 217,075 13.4
Concrete piers 185,151 113,472 298,623 18.5
Steel itself
180,986 168,568 349,554 21.8
Steel erection 86,100 87,480 173,580 10.8
All else 160,570 88,140 248,710
15.4
Overhaul (Fraser R) 162,229* 162,229* 324,458 20.1
TOTALS 929,771 682,229 1,612,000 100.0
MAY -JUNE 2000
yd. Coffer dam piles: 2,610 piles with driving cost. of
$56,507. Steel fabrication in Ontario: East section @ $3.75
per Ib,.West section
@ $2.89 per lb. Erecting: $30 per ton of
steel. Engineering supervision & related costs: $24,276.
Labour costs: All included in job/material costs; labourer
working on railway grade in region earned about $3 to 3.50
for 10-hour day.
Possibly unskilled men working on sub­
structure received
$3.50 to 4 because of day & night shifts
and greater hazards.
Scowmen & tradesmen earned $5.
Steel
in structure East section = 2,870 tons; West section =
2,916 tons; Total = 5,786 tons.
200ft spans weigh approx. 420 tons; total steel in lift span
about 580 tons
GTPR in nutshell: Incorporated 24th Oct. 1903; eastern end
commenced near Winnipeg 29th Aug. 1905; B.C. surveys
completed by 1907; western end commenced at Prince
Rupert [raw coastlineJ 7th May 1908; east & west sections
joined near Fort Fraser, B.C. on 7th April 1914, totalling
1,757.9 miles; first Winnipeg~Prince Rupert through-service
commenced 6th June 1915; failing financially in 1916 due
to European war -at 1,962 mileage with total investment
of
$192 miJlion; placed in receivership 7th March 1919 and
operated by ad hoc Cdn National Rlys created by Order-in­
Council 20th Dec. 1918; CNR becomes truly official 4th
Oct 1922. Current mileage Jasper to Prince George=253.4,
Prince George to Prince Rupert=467.1; total 720.5 miles.
SOURCES
(1) Bridge Engineers Pocket Book (personal): 25 page
extract, undated but covering years cI912-15. Compiled
by J.G. Legrand [1861-1923J. Page size approx. 5 x 8.
Held by CN Western Region, Edmonton.
(2) Article: Building Bridge Substructure on the Grand
Trunk Pacific RJy by Wc. Ruegnitz; Engineering News, 8
Oct 1914, 5pp. Contains I bridge plan and 8 poor grade
photos.
(3) Book: A Thousand Blunders -Story of Building of
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway by Frank Leonard, University
of BC Press, 1996, 344pp. See pages 77 [contracts], 86-88
[roadways], 212-215 [navigation litigationJ, 252-255 [freight
trafficJ.
(4) 1.ocal newspapers: Fort George Herald and
Fort Gcorge
Tribune, 1913 and 1914, both weeklies. Very sparse
references about the bridge. [understandable as readers would
have walked to riverbank to see for themselvesJ. Startup
of
1914 train service was extracted from these sources and not
from official timetable
s.
(5) Newspaper supplements: Both published by Prince
George Citizen. (a) Centennial edition of 20th July 1971,
called Grand Trunks Final Hurdle with 8 photos; (b)
Seventy Years of Rail, 27 Jan 1984. Both useful.
(6) Book: Canadian National Railways -Vol 2 by G.R.
Stevens, Clarke Irwin Ltd, Toronto, 1962, 547pp., two short
paragrapbs on p.193 and 196, plus background on GTPR.
(7) Transcript of narrated slide show: Untitled but would be
S
ome aspects of construction of GTP Railway between Tete
Jaune Cache and Prince George, cI911-15. Most slides
83 CANADIAN RAIL -476
[
HE LiiSTGOLO MINE
OF DRAGON MOUNTAIN
by Arlhllr ~. Do ..
AND 51)( MEN WE,NY
by rri~ ColJi(r
The Prince George bridge was the subject of the cover
of the September-October 1950 issue of Cariboo and
Northwest Digest.
undated. Talk given by Ted Williams at Prince George Library
in Feb 1984.
(8) Article: Construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific
Railway in B.C. by J.A.Lower. p.163-181 of B.C. Historical
Quarterly, July 1940.
Useful for date interpolations except
for incorrect bridge dates quoted as:-commence 31/8/12;
completion 7/3/14.
(9) Book: The Railway Contract<;>rs: Story of John W
Stewart
by G.W Taylor, Morriss Pub., Victoria, 1988, 144pp.
Very slight mention
of Bates & Rogers Construction Co. on
p.80-81. Nearly half
of book is devoted to building of GTPR,
so handy
overview.
(10) Regulation
s: Operating Fixed and Moveable Spans of
Railway Bridges; issued by Doard of Railway
Commissioners; British Columbia Pilot, Vol 1 , 1951,
Canadian Hydrographic Service, Ottawa.
(II) Period textbooks: Providing details of fixed and draw
railway bridges: raj Design of Steel Bridges with 52 fold­
out drawings, F.Kunz, McGraw-Hill, 1919. [bJ Moveable
and Long-span Steel Bridges with photos and plans,
G.A.Hool, McGraw-Hili, 1923. Neither viewed by author.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Substantial thanks to Les Kozma, Edmonton, who
supplied sources and documents, encouragement, and text
reviewing; Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum &
Archives; CN, Edmonton; Dr Frank Leonard, New
Westminster; Kent Sedgwick, Prince George; Windsor
Community Museum, Ontario. Author, David Davies, 262
Robson Dr., Kamloops, B.C. phone (250) 374-5266.
RAIL CANADIEN -476 84 MAl -JUIN 2000
Engineer Birse: Canadas Answer to Casey Jones
by Fred F. Angus
Were all in the river, the engines gone, and Joe Birse is at the bottom.
One of the most famous train wrecks in history occurred exactly one hundred years ago; early in the morning of April 30,
1900 to be exact. In an era when horrendous wrecks happened with distressing frequency, this one was relatively minor. A fast
southbound
passenger train rear-ended a freight which was being switched and had not cleared the main line. This took place
near the small town
of Vaughan, Mississippi on the main line of the Illinois Central (a line now owned by Canadian National).
Although there was considerable
damage, there was only one fatality, and the episode did not rate being mentioned in most
newspapers, except
in the immediate area. It would be entirely forgotten today except for the fact that the one person who died
was the engineer, named John Luther Jones (1864-1900),
who has been immortalized as Casey Jones, the brave engineer.
Although
there are conflicting stories, there is very strong evidence that the wreck was Caseys own fault, as he had been
speeding,
in an effort to make up time, and perhaps overlooked a warning signal. At any rate, a song was written by one Wallace
Saunders; this became a great hit, and the S
tOlY of Casey Jones has been famous around the world for almost a century.
Ten years before the immortal Casey took
his trip into the Promised Land, an accident took place on the Grand Trunk
Railway
of Canada (a line also now owned by Canadian National), at Lachine, a few miles west of Montreal. The same elements
of the story are present; the brave engineer who saved his train, and many lives, but died at his post with his hand on the throttle.
As with Casey, the engineer was the only fatality, and the passengers and crew had a very narrow escape. However there
is one
big difference; most people have heard
of Casey Jones, almost no one has heard of Joseph Birse, the equally brave engineer who
died on a
cold snowy morning one hundred and ten years ago. This is his story.
If there was ever a
justification for opening a story
with the time-worn cliche It
was a dark and stormy night,
this was it.
In fact the reporter
for the Montreal Witness came
close to the infamous phrase
when he stated that It was dark
and stormy.
The time was the
early morning of Thursday,
December 4, 1890, the place
was Lachine, Quebec, eight
miles west of Montreal, and
there was a ferocious blizzard
in progress, the first big
snowstorm of the season.
It had been a bad night
for the Grand Trunk.
The tracks
out
of Bonaventure, Montreals
main passenger station, had
been blocked since 10:40 the
night of the 3rd, and all across
the system there were reports
of
trains running very late or being
immobilized by the storm. The
blockage at Bonaventure was
caused when
passenger engine
No. 90, backing into the station,
probably for the II :35 P.M.
local to Lachine, collided with
a
freight train that was being
switched across the main line,
JOSEPH BIRSE, Engineer G. T. R.
Drowned in railway accident, 4th December.
Died ut the post of duty.
JOSEPH BIRSE, 1838 -1890
From The Dominion lllustrated, December 13, 1890.
One train tha twas
supposed to have left at 11 :55
P.M. was train No.6, the
overnight express to Toronto
with connections to Chicago.
Its departure time was not
unlike that of the present day
Enterprise, but its scheduled
arrival time was very much
later, 11:30 A.M., almost a 12-
hour trip. In fact it was an
express in name only, for it
stopped at most of the local
stations. A connecting train
was timed to leave Toronto at
1 :
00 P.M., and reach Chicago
at 8: 10 A.M. the following day,
more than 33 hours (allowing
for the time difference) from
Montreal. However at 5:25
A.M. this December 4 (when it
should have been somewhere
between Kingston station and
Napanee), it had not
yet even
departed from Montreal
Things were bad, but they were
going to get worse.
Part
of the route followed
by the
Toronto train between
Montreal and Dorval was quite
new,
having been in use for
only two years. The original
and which the engineer did not see in the storm. Although
damage was minimal, three freight cars were derailed in such
a position that all lines were
blocked; no trains could get
into, or get out of, Bonaventure Station. Grand
Trunk main line, built in the 1850s, went quite far
inland, almost the same route as the present-day main line
of
the CNR. However in 1888 the GTR had built a double track
line branching
off the former Montreal & Lachine Railway
MAY -JUNE 2000 85 CANADIAN RAIL -476
ABOVE: This map is from a large map of the Island of Montreal, printed in 1890, the year of the Lachine wreck. The connection
between Lachine and Dorval had been
in lise only two years. The inset gives a close-tip of the area near the Lachine whmf The
Yon which the Lachine local trains turned is not shown, but it was to the right of the track leading to the wharf
BELOW: Montreal;s Bonaventure station as it appeared at the time of our stOly. It was new, having been built in 1887.
and running straight to Dorval where it joined the
old main line. At the
same time the old M&L was
double tracked.
This route via Lachine became the
main line and remained
so until 1961 when the 1888
connection was abandoned and through trains
began to run on a new line which very closely
approximated the original route. The point where
the 1888 line departed from the M&L was oalled
the Willows, and was only 3050 feet from the
Lachine wharf which was the western terminus of
the M&L. Since some local passenger trains ran only
between Montreal and Lachine, with the occasional
one running all the way to the Lachine wharf, a
switchman was on duty at the Willows to turn the
switch for the main line or the Lachine wharf line
depending on which train was approaching. The
Lachine local trains would tum on a Y between the
switch and the wharf, and then head back towards
Montreal. A whistle signal was supposed to tell the
;~~a~.:.lt~ … ~
switcrullan which way to throw the switch, but that
night something went terribly WfOl1g.
RAIL CANADIEN -476
During the night the
storm intensified and the wind
reached 40 miles an hour. the
temperature fell to 8
degrees F.
while almost 12 inches of snow
fell.
Meanwhile the passengers
on the Toronto train waited
while the work of rerailing the
derailed cars continued.
The line
was
finally open again soon
after 5:00 A.M. on
December 4.
Whether the train crew had been
on duty all night. or had been
called at an early hour in the
morning we do not know. In any
case they were
on duty by 5. The
train consisted of an engine. a
baggage car. a second-class
immigrant coach. a first-class
coach and two sleepers. one of
whjch was the through Pullman
from Boston to Chicago. The
train was in charge of conductor
Stone. while engineer Joseph
Birse and fireman Samuel
Edwards ran the locomotive.
Edwards was 29 years old and
had worked
for the GTR since
1882. As was customary they.
were scheduled to run it as far as
Brockville. 125 miles away.
Unfortunately we have not yet
been able to determine the
number of the engine. In the
baggage car. Mr. A.
White tended
to his .duties as
baggageman.
Engineer Joseph Birse
was one of the longest-serving
employees on the Grand Trunk.
Born in
Aberdeen. Scotland on
June 24 1838. he had emigrated
to
Canada in the year 1856. In
September. 1858 he had entered
the service
of the GTR. This was
in the days of the broad gauge.
only two years after through
service had begun between
Montreal and Toronto. and
before the Victoria Bridge was
completed.
He was promoted to
Engine Driver
in 1864. the same
86
CONDENSED TIME-TABLE
FROM
Montreal to
Chicago.
Mis. STATIONS.
No.~
PASSEN­
GER.
No.4
PA88IlN-
GER.
No.6
LIMITIlD
~X)RkS8.
o Montreal ……………… Lv. 9.o~s.m. A 8.26p.lU. 11.~Op.lU.
24 Jacques Calt1er ………….. ……………………………. .
Vaudreull………………….. 10.01 9.22 ,,
31 £ote.au……………… …….. 10.30 9.47…. ……….
M aneaster………………….. 1I.0~ 10.18
1fT Cornwall ………………… Ar. II.~ 10.46….· i:oo;,-.w·.
Cornwall …………………. Lv. )1.6~ 10.46 2.04
~ ~~~~g~su~~::::::::::::::::::::: In~p:?· ll:~:: ……….. .
112 Preacott. op. Ogden.b·g … Ar. 1.. 1213~.,,1. ~.2[
Preecott, .. .. .Lv. 1.64 12.17 8.28
126 ~~g~~~:::::::::::::::::::t!: U~:: g::~:: .U~
l~ ~:~1,:>~~:~~~c·:::::.·.::::::::: ~:g~:: .. ·i:47 …. · :U6
m ru::~:t:;~~~:::::::::::::::::::t~: U~:: gg:: U~
198 ~:~:rn,,:itO· J~~cil;~:::::::::::: n~:: Ui:: 6.10
220 ~~ll~~tll~:::::::::::::::::::::t!: Ug:: ::~:: ~:;;g
~~ 6~1b~~~e·.:::::~::::::::::::::.:: ~J~:: 4.2~ :j:~~
264 Cobonrg Ar 72; … ~.:i~…… 8.2U
270 ~~m~~~:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.::.:.:.:.:.:.:.L.~: {~g:: UI:: ~:t~
~ l1oo~~~~I.~:::::::::::::::::~~. I~:~Z:: ~:66:: IU~
381 ifOJo:to ………………. Lv. U lUO 8~0 ~:~p.nl.
396 ~t~~~o~~::.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.::.:.:.:.:~. t~a::l 1~:5b:: Ul
421 Btrat.tord ………………… Lv. 3.16 K~)I:~u. gg
~ ro:.1~~~·.s::::::::::::: ::::: :::~~ …. 3:~~. :: .. ,/2 .~7.::.. !:~
601 8arnla (Pt. Edward).. …….. .. 6.1~ 1.M 1.00
60.1 Fort GraHot ……………… Lv. 7.M a:;u 7 .6b
60.1 ~~: ~~~~~ ~~~~: :G~¥:8ia.:: ……………………………. .
~£~~~U~c~~.f:.~~~.~:::::::: 7.2b …… S:i6
[,1;1 Detroit, D .• G. H. & M. Depot .. 9:40·: u. io·: .. ·9:ili .. · ..
671 Lapeer………….. ………… 8.3) 9.84
~~ ~~;;d:::::·:.:::::.:::::·::::::: U~:: 1O.lb
131 Trowbridge ………………. •• 10.21 l~:~
140 Lan.lng……………………. 10.30 11.113
~~ ~~I,:>g~k::::::::…::…..:: 11.00 12.25a.lli.
1l.4~ ……….. 1.16
m ~~g~~~:fit:..:::::.::::::::::::::: 1i:~p·!·II. :::::::::::: g~
838 C … opoUS…………………. I.~O………… 3.19
860 South Bend………………… 2.80…. ………. t.Ol
904 Valpar~160 ………………. 4.00………….. ~.iiO
940 Blu~I.lantlJct .• C.R.I.&P.Hy 6.16 ………… 7.07
960 Chicago. C. &A. Ry ………. Ar …………………………….. ..
956 Chicago. C. & G. T. Ry……… 6.26 8.l0a.lll. 8.l0a.w.
Nol4 (A)-RuDO DaUy. Bundays Included. Montreal to Toronto.
(B)-8alurday nlght train runs throngb to Detroit Sunday. A.M.
Expr~s trains leavtng Montreal 8.2~. 11.110 P.~1. Saturdays. makes eon­
nectlon at Toronto on Sundays with 12.20 P.M. train tor Detroit aud
Chicago. via Hamilton .
• Flag st.&UODJ. Tr&1lla atop only on a1gnal.
This timetable, dated December 20. 1888, is similar to that
of 1890 except that in 1888 No 6 departed at 11 :50 p.M.
MAl -JUIN 2000
and skillful. he added to his
knowledge of his business a
taste for literature which he used
every opportunity to cultivate.
An
official said that he was a
most upright man, a capital
engineer. This morning he
would demonstrate his sense of
duty to the utmost.
The four companions who
had worked with Birse on the
Brockville run all had first names
that b
egan with J; Joseph Birse.
J.
Donohue, John Howarth and
James Stewart. For many years
th
ey had been great friends. but
by 1890 the
other three had all
died violently and only
one was
left. Howarth was killed in a

run-off at Kingston in 1884.
Donohue was crushed to death
in another run-off at Wales in
18
86. and Stewart died of
terrible injuries received in a
pitch-in at Pointe Claire in
1887. Recalling those days. Joe
Birses daughter said Dad had
many a narrow escape. but never
an
accident. It seemed that he
was
just lucky, but this luck was
about to change. Little did Joe
Birse realize when he climbed
into the cab of the engine that
December morning that within
the hour he would join his
friends in death.
At
5:30 A.M. train No.6. the
Toronto
Express. departed from
Bonaventure more than five and
a half hours late. the first train to
leave
after the line was reopened.
Twenty-three minutes later the
Lachine local. scheduled for
5:40. and therefore 13 minutes
late, also departed. Because of
the derailment, train No.6 was
routed
on the north track to St.
He
nry, and then followed its
regular route. Meanwhile eight
mil
es west, at the Willows. the
year as another GTR engineer whose career was very much
shorter; William Burnie of Beloeil Bridge disaster fame.
Three years later (1867) he started working on the western
division. running between Montreal and Brockville. and
had worked there for 23 years. He was married. with six
children and lived in a neat two-story house at 134
Congregation Street in Point St. Charles. Only three weeks
before. his
daughter had married engineman Riddell of the
GTR. Birse was a very respected
employee of the GTR. Steady storm was even worse than it was
in
downtown Montreal. Switch tender Emery Dubois. who
was
22 years old. was awaiting the arrival of the first train
due in the moming. Under normal circumstances this would
be the Lachine local which was
due soon after six. Whether
he realized that the Toronto train. due hours before. had not
yet passed was never
made entirely clear. Dubois was. paid
$1.00
per day as a switchman. but if he served as operator he
got an extra
10 cents. That morning he had been on duty II
hours and was nearing the end of his 12-hour day.
MAY -JUNE 2000 87 CANADIAN RAIL -476
The procedure at the Willows was
as follows. On the switch stand was a target
which was visible
to an oncoming train if
and only if the switch was set to the
Lachine line. At night a white light
indicated that the main line was clear,
while a purple light would show if the
swi tch was turned. When a westbound
train approached it was the rule for it to
blow one long blast if it was going
through on the main line, and to blow
four short blasts if it was going on to the
Lachine line. In addition a message was
sent over the telegraph line, using code
UX, when the train left Bonaventure
and when it passed Lachine Junction,
some distance east of the Willows. This
message could be heard by all
There is no known photo of the engine involved in the wreck, and we do not even
know its
IUll11beJ: No. 403, seen here in 1888, is a t)lpical GTR engine of the period,
before the late 1890s when C.M. Hays, the new General Manager ordered the
replacement of the diamond stacks by the straight type. John Thompson collection.
stations from Montreal to
Kingston, if the operator was
li
stening, which he was not
E WESTER~ TRACK.
Even after the first mistake,
disaster was not inevitable. The
express was going fairly slowly,
only 15 or 20 miles an hour, and
there was plenty
of time, at least a
minute and a half, to stop before
the wharf. All that would happen
required to do.
B
would be that the train would stop,
wait for the local to clear, then
back
Because of the storm,
and the rerouting between
Bonaventure and St. Henry,
train No.6 lost some more
time, and approached the
Willows at 6:08 A.M., almost
exactly the scheduled time
of
the Lachine local. Engineer
Birse gave one long whistle,
a fact corroberated by fireman
Edwards and brakeman Little.
Dubois heard the whistle too,
heavily muffled by the snow.
Then a headlight appeared,
shining weakly through the
gloom. Since this was exactly
the time the Lachine local
was due, Dubois, never even
thinking about the Toronto
train that had not yet passed,
thought that he had missed
the four blasts, and he
quickly turned the switch to
the Lachine track. As
the train
rolled by, and turned off the
main line,
the thought crossed
his mind that the engine was
different from the one usually
This diagram appeared in the Montreal Herald on
De
cember 5, with a description of the points indicated.
The switch is at F, while B marks the spot where the
brakes were applied.
e is the Lachine Whw! station.
up to the switch, reverse again, and
then res
ume its trip west. Maybe
15 or 20 minutes lost, and some
embarrasing questions from head­
quarters, but that would be all.
Miles STATIONS.
IS 27 9 29
Pa8S Pa88 Exp. Pa88

——
LEAVE A.M. A.M. A . .M: A.M.
o Montreal &85.
t520 t6 30 t 6 45 t800
1.00 St. Cune,;ollde
525 635 ……..
l.W St. Henri. …….
527 6 37 652 805
2.09 Turcot……. ……
5 31 6 41 …….. ….. ,.
4.68 Moutreal West
535 645._ ….. ……..
6.BB Rockfield ………
5 37 647 …….. ._ ••• 0.
6.48 Dominion ……..
539 649 ………. …….
6 95 Convent.. ………
5 41
651
8.00
1
LachineWhf7~
8 18
7.82 Lachine 72 … _.
~—
5 50 655.-….. ·
An 1894 timetable showing the first foul trains out in
the morning. In 1890 train 5 left Montreal
at 5:40,
arrived at Lachine at
6: 1 0 and did /1ot go 10 the whwf
The first express did 110t pass Lachine until after 7.
But unfortunately, things did
not work out that way. Fireman
Edwards was too busy shoveling coal
to look out, while engi,neer
Birse was
fully occupied with the engine.
Due
to the stor~; visibility was very low,
and the tracks were covered with
snow. Neither man in the cab noticed
the extra
jolt as the train turned off
the main line .and neither realized that
they were on the wrong track, as
precious seconds went by. Evidently
engineer Birse had seen the signal
clear when he looked out, but Dubois
had turned the switch just after the
smokstack and boiler obscured it
from the engineers view. The first
inkling they had that something was
on the local. Still he did not realize his mistake, that this was
not the local but the Toronto express! He later claimed that
he left the switch set for Lachine and went in to his shelter to
wait for the train to turn on the Y and return, en route back to
Montreal. Only a few minutes later he heard another train
approach and sound four blasts and he realized the truth.
This was the real Lachine train; the other one must have
been the No.6. Suddenly stricken by panic and shock, he
was,
in his own words, confused and he neglected to signal
this train to stop, so it too headed
down the branch line. wrong was
just before they reached Lachine Wharf station!
By then it
was too late. Without saying a word, engineer
Birse shut off steam, applied the air brakes, turned on the
sanders and
desperately tried to reverse the engine. What
happened is best described in the words of fireman Edwards:
Proceeding when close upon the semaphore at the Willows,
Birse slackened the speed
of the train to go steadily around
the curve, gave one long whistle as a warning to the
switchman that we were coming, and put his head out the
window to look out
for the switch. Seemingly satisfied that
RAIL CANADIEN -476 88 MAl -JUIN 2000
SCENE At THE WRECK.
A view of the wreck, sketched within a few hours of when it happened. There are some inaccuracies in depicting the rolling
stock, but the proportions are all right. Notice fireman Edwards
in the watel; waving madly. The same picture appeared in both
the Witness
of December 4 and La Presse of December 5, showing thaI both papers shared woodcuts.
everyth
ing was all right, he started
her at full speed again. I stooped to
put
in fire and on rising saw a dark
shadow like a house passing the cab
window 011 the other side. I was
going to say that something was
wrong when Birse grabbed the
throttle with the intention of shutting
off.
The next moment I had to catch
hold
of the throttle to steady my feet.
The train seemed
to be dancing and
I thought she W(IS off the rails. Then
she went downward.
After the first jolt of the
applying brakes there was a
continued motion as the wh
eels slid.
Th
ere was still time for Birse to jump,
but it seems he never considered this
option. He remained at his post in a
desperate effOit to stop the train; the
lives of almost 100 passengers
depended on him. He pulled hard on
the whistle cord, sounding a warning
that the train was out
of control. On
went the train, the wheels still sliding
on
the wet, slippery rail. Past the
Lachine wharf station, out on the
wharf and up to a solid stop-block at
tbe end
of the track. The sheer weight
and momentum broke the block
THURSDAY, DECEMDER 4-, 1890.
A
SWITCHMANS ERROR.
.AN ENGINEER DIES WITH HIB HAND
ON THE THROTTLE.
1115 lUiGlNE or THE MIDNIGHT ORAND TRUNK
TRAIN FOB TORONTO LEAPS INTO rUE ntVER
J.T LJ.OBINE-MmACULOU8 ESOAl. OP TilE!
FJIltMAIf
.AND PA88I11NOIBS.
.A Bwltohmans mistake, Afut train, heavHy
loaded, turned onto a wrong traok, A plunge
into the icy river, A life lost, nnd 1 fearfully
narrow esoape of nearly a hundred p~sscngorB I
Tb&t
Is the story of the accident At Lachine
this morning.
What a morning it. wasl Dark and cold,
with a remorseless wind that tore aronnd cor­
ners and flung the snow Into your eycll, and
beat the clothes oftyour back. &Ild pierced you
to the marrow.
TU)! CRASH.
And At six oclock a train oame tearing along
past the Willows about seven hundred yards
from the Lachine wharf statioa, pas t the switch
and past the man at the switch, and past the
Lachine station, an d past the tremendously
atrong and staunoh shunting post, and-cl&8h
went the engIne through the ice I
Thefirs! report;
in the Montreal Daily Witness.
The front end of the baggage
car also went off the end, and the car
dangled at a steep angle above the
water.
Behind the baggage car the
rest
of the train stopped with a series
of violent jolts but did not even
derail. Joseph Birse had stopped the
train in time to save all the
passengers, but in so doing he had
lost his own life.
On board the train,
conductor
Stone was punching tickets when he
felt the first shock as the brakes were
applied.
Then came a greater shock
as tbe engine hit the stop block. With
further
jolts, bangs and jars, which
thoroughly awakened any of the
passengers who might have been
asleep, the train came to a stop. In
one of the Pullmans a lighted lamp
fell to the floor with a crash, and all
was in confusion. Fortunately
someone smothered the flames, and
conductor Stone had the
presence of
mind to put out the fire in the stove
in the
baggage car; thus saving the
entire train from catching fire. He
then went through the train to see
who might be hurt and need help.
One passenger, Rev. Mr. Acheson of
loose and, with the whistle still shrieking, the engine and
tender went off the end
of the wharf, crashed through the ice
and sank
in 16 feet of water. Niagara Falls, was well pleased with the Providential escape,
.and he said, with a twinkle
in his eye It is well to have some
good men on board a train.
OPPOSITE PAGE: This detailed and very dramatic view, by E. Haberer, appeared in The Dominion Illustrated, a high
quality weekly
lI1agazine, on December 13, nine days after the yvreck. It shows the passengers facing the fury of the storm after
disembarking from the train. Fireman Edwards
is seen waving to attract the attention of rescuers, and some of the buildings
near the
whQlJ appear faintly in the background. !Vote that the passenger cars are still fully lit. The birds eye view in the inset
is the best overall view
we have of the layout of track and buildings il1 the area.
GENERAL
VIEW,
11-.-.)/,
~HOW
rN(;
~L1.11
UKF-,
WITH
SWITCH
TO
LACHINE
,
VH
:RF
,
A.-=.lain
[iue.
~
.-
S.,
,,·itChill
g
po
i
nt:
wilere
t1H:
error
wn~
111
3de.
C.-Lachi::le
wharf
.;ta
tioD.
D.
-:O;
po:
wh~r~
the
acc.iilcnt
happcll<:u.
THE
FATAL
AC
CID
ENT
AT
LACHINE
, 4th
DE
C
EMBE
R.
(By
our
pecial
a
rlist.)
~ ::c tr) tj 0 ~ H Z H 0 Z H t1 t1 e (j) ~ ~ > ~ ttJ tl
….
tN
…. ::r t:1 t
0
s::: ~
,
l:-e z m I) 0 0 0
III
~ 0 » z » 0 ); Z :::0 » r ..,. –J (J)
RAIL CANADIEN – 476 90 MAl -JUIN 2000
real ,…———————-. eventually, after more than ten
Lachine train came
up the line, THE LACHINE ACCIDENT minutes in the cold water,
Meanwhile the
and the
engineer saw the tail That the train wreck which occurred at Lachine Edwards was hauled out, cold,
lights
of NO.6. He was already yesterday morning was not one of the most terrible that cut and bruised, but ali ve. Soon
going quite slowly, so had no has ever taken place in Canada, is well nigh miraculous. after he was brought into the
difficulty stopping about 300 or The railway wharf at Lachine, over the end of which it is warmth of the Pullman car he said
400 yards be
hind the express. not difficult to imagine a train launching itself, runs out Poor Joe, Hes gone. When that
The flag
man from No.6 ran up into deep water and a strong current, and at this time it engine is brought up Joe will be
to his train
and said with some is surrounded by floe ice. The storm, which was raging found with his hand upon the
hyperbole Were all in
the river, at the time was a veritable blizzard, the men on the till·ottle. And it proved to be so.
the engines gone, and Joe Birse engine could not see two feet before their head-light, As soon as the shock of the
is at the bottom. and the snow, as a matter of course, muffled the usual
impact was over, many of the
O sounds of the running train. After waiting for some hours
nly one person, not on passengers disembarked from the
for a clear track, the train had just started, and it is
the train, appears to have seen the train on to the wharf. Up till then
probable that the engineer had not had time to become
accident happen. This is not they did not know just what had accustomed to the storm. Whether the system or the surprising sin
ce it happened soon happened, but when they looked switchman was to blame for the opening of the switch
after 6 A.M. in the midst of a around they realized what a is a matter upon which, at the present time,
it would be
blizzard. As the engine passed . narrow escape they had unjust to venture an opinion.
If, after the switch had
the street crossing near the depot, b experienced. If the stop block had
een opened, the train had rushed straight on to the
Mr.
Frank Schwago of Hannas bumper at the end of the wharf, the chances are that not been there the first cars would
Hotel stepped from the door
of but a small number of those on board of it would have have followed the engine into the
the hotel and with honor saw that water, and if the block had not escaped.
The engineer discovered that he was on the
the train was rushing at tremen-wrong track in time to save his train, but not himself. yielded the train might have
dous
speed towards the end of Unfortunately, we have no railway commission in buckled and gone sideways off
the pier. It was still quite dark and Canada, and this wreck and its causes will be the wharf. The reporter of the
all the lights in the coaches were investigated, on behalf of the public only by the Montreal Herald described the
lit. He viewed the plunge
of the coroners jury. The duty which thus devolves upon this scene as follows: People hastily
locomoti ve which smashed body is a very onerous one, and they should attempt to wrapped themselves up and made
through the ice with a fearful come to a conclusion as to the merits of the system their way to the end of the pier
crash and sank in a cloud of under which such an important switch as that leading where a scene was enacted which
steam. Then followed a painful to a cuI de sac like the Lachine wharf is possible. completely baffles description.
silence until the people emerged The Montreal Daily Witness, December 5, 1890. Thick clouds of snow were being
from the cars and wen t to the blown with terrific violence and
assistance of fireman Edwards. …..——————–…… the cold was so intense that many
The escape of Edwards was almost miraculous. At the had their ears frozen before they had been out of the car ten
time of the accident he was busy with his shovel, and as the minutes. The baggage car was partially over the edge of the
engine plunged off the wharf the tender fell on him. Somehow whQlf; one end being up in the air and the passenger coach
he was unhUlt and managed to get himself loose and reach half under it. Around the pier on the thick ice could be seen
the surface of the frigid water. In the words of the reporter for the fragments of the terminus and the pieces of the front
the Montreal Herald No sooner had he entered the freezing-platform of the baggage Cal: Immediately after the accident
cold water than he felt the coals falling about him, and the huge cakes of ice floated over the hole made by the engine
battle for dear life began. Kicking himself free he rose and formed a solid mass so that nothing whatever could be
towards the sUlface, but was struck by the large pieces
of seen of the locomotive.
ice
which had already floated over the spot where the Once the passengers realized that there was no more
engine went down. With his hands and arms bleeding from danger most of them re-boarded the train, and the stoves
the fight he struggled to gain the air, and just when he were re-lit to keep the cars warm. There they waited until the
thought that all was over with him his head appeared above GTR sent out an engine to bring them back to Montreal. The
the wate!: Being a good swimmer he succeeded in treading sound of the crash had been heard even above the noise of
water until his cries for assistance were heard by those on the storm, and some of the local residents came out to give
the pia Hjs first words were: For Gods sake get me a rope assistance. Much of the land in the area was owned by the
or something, or I shall freeze to death here. Baggage man Dawes family who owned a large brewery, and one of the
White heard his call and, although hurt himself, he grabbed first on the scene was Mr. James Dawes who supplied, among
an axe and chopped a hole through a partition in the car and other trungs, a change of dry clothes for the fireman, while a
escaped. Seeing Edwards head in the water, he tried to reach doctor, who happened to be a passenger on the Pullman,
him
but to no avail. Then an elderly Pullman passenger in rubbed him and gave him brandy to restore circulation.
an old-fashioned
beaver hat, Mr. Edward F. Kernan of News of the accident soon reached Montreal by the
Charleston S.C., tore down some of the bell rope, climbed proverbial grapevine, as well as that relatively new invention
on the roof of the baggage car, and tried to throw the rope to called the telephone. At first details were few and the word
Edwa
rds. This was difficult because of the high wind, but spread that there had been a terrible wreck with more than
someone tied a wooden stick to the rope, threw it, and 100 fatalities. Gradually more details came in and it was
MAY -JUNE 2000 91
BIRSE.-Drowned li Lachine, on the Hh lnst., Joseph
JUne, loeomot.ive enalnee Il~ed 51 yes.rs and 6 months.
Friends and aCQuaint&nces are respectfully invited to
~ttlind he tuner~t (rom his l&te residence, 134 Congre·
!r~lion street, on Wednesday, Detember 10th, at h~lf­
past two oclock, thence to Moun t ROYlI.l Cemeter)
Piell.se om i t flowers,
The funeral announcement, December 9, 1890.
realized that only one person had died; the rest had a very
narrow escape. The GTR acted with surprising speed. An
engine was sent out from
Montreal and hauled the passenger
cars, which were neither damaged or derailed, back to
Bonaventure. Most of the passengers were able to resume
their journey on the regular train scheduled to depart at 9:30
A.M. A work train with thirty men arrived about 10:30 A.M.
and, after a good deal
of trouble, the baggage car was pulled
back to terra firma on
December S. As the Herald reporter
said
The front of the car was bodly smashed, and the inside
looked as though there
had been a dynamite explosion.
Some GTR employees considered the engine jinxed,
as it had been
in several previous accidents; not long before
it had turned completely
over in a ditch. One old railroader
said
Let it stay there, itll do no more damage. However
CANADIAN RAIL -476
continued until December 18. The first days proceedings
were delayed for some hours while baliffs rounded up passers­
by
on the street to serve as jurors I Much evidence was heard
and many questions asked.
The two big questions were: how
did the switchman mistake the Toronto Express for the
Lachine local? and why did the engine crew not realize they
were on the wrong track? Both the questions had ready
answers. The switchman was fairly young and inexperienced
and had been on duty for
II hours. Despite the fact that the
head-light
of the Toronto train is about twice as big os that
of the Lachine train, and that alone should have warned
him the mistake is easy to make under the weather
conditions that then existed. In 1890 the railways still used
oi I
headlights which were none too bright no matter what
their size, and in a blizzard it would be hard to distinguish
until it was too late. The fact that the engine crew did not
know they were on the wrong track is also easily explained.
The curve towards the wharf is not very sharp, at least not
near the switch (after all it was the main line until 1888) and,
with visibility almost nil and the tracks
covered with snow,
the mistake is well understood. Someone also questioned
why a message was not sent from Bonaventure to the Willows
saying that the Toronto express would arrive on about the
scheduled time as the Lachine local. The answer was Well
thats not done on a double track.
work to recover it began at once. On December
7 a diver found the body of Joe Birse, but could
not bring it up because it was trapped by the
tender wheels which had
smashed in to the cab.
The tender was lifted on December 8, and the
body was recovered.
The report said: Eirse was
found in the posture which he was accustomed
to take in his engine, with his right hand .firmly
gripping the lever. Evidently he had been
trapped in the cab, and drowned in the freezing
water before he could escape. The prediction
made by fireman Edwards just after the accident
had
come true. On December 9 the engine was
lifted
out and retUll1ed to P,?int St. Charles.
The funeral of Joseph Birse took place
on the 10th from his house on Congregation
Street. Several hundred mourners were there to
show their respect. Railway employees from as
far away as Brockville were present, and
some
of the passengers from the train attended to pay
tribute to the engineer
who had saved their lives.
Thefuneral procession was almost a quarter of a
mile long as it went to Mount Royal cemetery,
where he was buried. Rev. Mr. Cruickshanks,
the minister of St. Matthews Presbyterian
church, made the ceremony very impressive as
the hearse moved away. In those days hearses
were horse-drawn, and mourners frequently
walked behind the hearse all the way to the
grave, a distance of several miles.
Where the fatal mistake was made; the site of the switch. This view is from
between the two former lines, looking east, towards Montreal. The bicycle
path on the right
is where the line ran to Lachine whatf.
Once the wreck had been cleared up there
was the inevitable investigation as to what went
wrong. The coroners inquest began on
December 9, the day before the funeral, and
Photo by Fred Angus, March 24, 2000.
Looking out on Lachine
wharf on March 24, 2000. The train stopped on
the straight portion
of the whmf, just short of the end. The light house was
not there then. Photo by Fred Angus
RAIL CANADIEIJ -476
Just to put this month of December
1890 into historical perspective, we digress
briefly
to mention two news items that were
current topics
of conversation during the
eight days of the inquest. One, which
looked back to the past, reported the mmder
of Chief Sitting Bull, an event which
symbolized the end of the western frontier,
while the other, looking
to the future, told
of the launch of the latest battleship, the
U.S.S.
Maine (of remember the Maine
fame), a ship that would make so much
history little more than seven years later.
92 MAl -JUIN 2000
On December 18, the jury in the
Birse inquest rendered its verdict, a verdict
that did not really solve anything. No
serious negligence was found against
anyone, although, as usual, the system was
criticized. However it was pointed out that
the accident would not
have happened if
The house on Congregation Street where Joseph Birse lived. His was the left
doorway
of the building. Note the old style set-back door. Originally number 134,
it was renumbered
516 in the 1920s. Photos by Fred Angus, March 23, 2000.
all the rules laid down by the GTR had been followed to the
letter.
The whole jury was tired out and fed up after their
long ordeal, not to
mention their impressment, and they
just wanted to see the episode come to an end before the
Christmas holidays.
The final conclusion was that it was. an
unfortunate combination
of circumstances, not the least of
which was the coincidence of the two train times, that had
such tragic results. One juror, a Mr. Dick, thought the eight
days were wasted and said
It will be a long time before I am
caught
in the street again to serve as a juror, and he did not
sign the verdict, which he considered unsatisfactory. So
the
Coroner looked a little sadly at M,: Dick, put the verdict in
his pocket, his hat on his head,
and disappeared into the
cavernous darkness
of the big staircase. It was all over.
The Lachine accident was a favourite conversation
piece for several weeks, and some eulogies and poems were
written, two
of which we print here (the second could be
sung to the tune
of the Wabash Cannonball; we will leave
it up to the reader
to find a tune for the first). However the
wreck had only one fatality and not much material damage,
so once the hue and cry died down it passed from the public
memory and has been all
but forgotten for 110 years.
Today
one can still see places connected with the
wreck.
The track is gone between 10th Avenue and Dorval,
but the old right
of way can still be traced. From what used
to be called the Willows, the 1888 cutoff to Dorval, is now a
street, and the line
to Lachine Wharf is a bicycle path, but a
few rails remain in the pavement.
However one can stand
where switchman Dubois stood that morning when he set
the switch for the wrong track.
One can also walk the 3050
feet to the lighthouse (not there
in 1890) at the end of the
whalf; the place where the engine fell into the water.
Back
in Point St. Charles, the house on Congregation
Street where Joseph Birse lived
is still standing and in good
condition. Originally number 134, it now bears, due to street
renumbering, the number 516. It looks much as it must have
looked when engineer Birse left it to report for his last
assignment; driving the Toronto express
in the early .norning
hours
of that day so many years ago.
The tombstone of Joseph Birse in Mount Royal
Cemetery, March 22, 2000. Photo by Fred Angus
Up in Mount Royal cemetery, the Birse family plot is
easily visible. The large black granite tombstone is in
excellent condition, unlike that of fellow GTR engineer
Alonzo Dixon a few hundred yards away. The inscription on
it tells that he died at Lachine while in the discharge
of his
duty as engineer on the Grand Trunk Railway.
So this year, when you read all the stories that will be
published about the commemoration of the centennial of
the death of Casey Jones, and how this brave engineer died
at his post saving his train, take a few minutes to
remember
poor old Joe Birse, another brave engineer, who also died at
the throttle saving his train and its passengers on a stormy
December morning in 1890.
MAY -JUNE 2000
JOE BIRSE
Down to his death in the wild winter morning –
Down to his death without one word of warning;
All lonely he stood with his duty
and God,
Nor
flinched
in the pathway the mighty have trod –
And died with his hand on the throttle.
Behind him the storm and the darkness of night,
Before him the first early gleam
of the light;
Behind him a train-load of passengers, pent,
Who
are safe if the brave engineer is content
To die with his hand on the throttle.
No driver demurs when the challenge is called,
Nor sinks back despairing, aggrieved
and appalled:
93
Steel to steel, man and master, they die at their post,
And their names
are by this time, methinks, quite a host,
Gone down with their hands on the throttle.
Who may tell of the tempest that stirred in his breast
When he
marked the fell blunder, imagined the rest?
One thought to the helpless ones placed in his charge,
And so he stood firm
in the terrible marge,
And died with his hand on the throttle.
And the engine lies deep neath the cold, wintry flood,
And Joe has gone with her -two hearts of one mood,
But those that he saved from a terrible grave
Must remember the deed of the driver who gave
His life -with his hand
on the throttle.
W.H. Eland, Pembroke.
The Montreal Daily Witness, December 10, 1890. CANADIAN RAIL -476
JOE BIRSE, THE ENGINEER
Have we not still our heroes
With
hearts so strong and true –
Still, in lifes stress
and conflict,
Ready to
dare and do?
Let all who hold true manhood
And knightly courage dear,
Do
honour to the hero,
Joe Birse, the engineer.
The train sweeps through the darkness
Its precious freight of lives,
Of fathers, mothers, brothers,
Of sisters, husbands, wives,
Straight to the cold black river,
None
dream of danger near,
None see its deadly peril
Save Joe, -the engineer.
Oer the white flying snow-wreaths
The headlight throws its glare
On to
that awful blackness,
The gulf of dark despair!
Swift speeds the panting engine
With fiery throbbing breath
Defying
brake and throttle
It dashes on to death!
Oh,
hearts and homes awaiting
Those husbands, fathers, wives, –
Must the
dark river swallow
That treasure of dear lives?
Does he think, –
in the quiver
Of nerves at utmost strain,
Of one home that is waiting
For him -and waits in vain!
No time to pause or question,
One impulse
is in his breast,
If power of man can do it
Then he
must save the rest!
With one tremendous shudder
The
train stops -short and sheer –
But on still darts the engine,
God help the engineer!
God help him? Nay! He called him
To win lifes noblest crown,
As
in the cold dark water,
He went unflinching down!
What better than to follow
Where Love Divine hath trod
Himself to give, for brother-man,
Than -through the dark -to God!
Agnes M. Machar.
The Dominion Illustrated,
March 7, 1891.
RAIL CANADIEN -476 94 MAl -JUIN 2000
Our Gallery of Murals (continued)
The murals on this page were all photographed in Edmon.ton,
Alberta on April
3, 1999. The one at the top is at Fort Edmonton,
the middle one is
ill Old Strathcona, the one above is a detail,
showing the interurban,
of the middle one, while ,he one on the
right is at the tourist bureau
ill downtown Edmonton.
MAY -JUNE 2000 95 CANADIAN RAIL -476
The
Business Car
CASH FOR VIA?
Toronto -Ottawa will announce more federal funding
and a new
direction for Via Rail in the next few weeks,
Transport Minister David Collenette said on April 3. Were
leaning to getting more money into the system and newer
equipment and better service he said. Whatever we do,
whichever route we take, there will be a new day dawning
for passenger rail in
Canada, Collenette said.
While it has increased its revenues and efficiency
and has managed to maintain and even launch new services,
Via now loses
more than $190 million a year and regularly
dips into its
capital to keep the trains running. Collenette
said Via absolutely needs financial help and that hes been
busy in recent months convincing the cabinet for a cash
injection to keep passenger rail alive in Canada.
Montreal Gazette, April 4, 2000.
NEW QUARTER SHOWS FUTURISTIC TRAIN
The latest in a series of Millennium quarters,
released by the Royal Canadian Mint in February, 2000, has
the theme
of Ingenuity. Prominent in the design, occupying
the foreground
of the view, is a high-speed streamlined train.
This is in contrast to the June 1999 quarter which depicted a
nineteenth century 4-4-0, in keeping with the historical
theme of last years coins. May we expect to see trains like
the one on the February
2000 coin operating on VIA in the
21 st
century?
AUCTION AT ALLISTON STATION
RE: Major Auction of railway artifacts, collectables and
Alliston Station itself.
P.O. Box 983, 6594 Fifth Line
Tottenham, Ontario,
LOG I WO, Canada
Tel. (905) 936-4444 Fax. (905) 936-9844
E-mail: depot@bconnex.net
After half a century of involvement in the Canadian
railway scene, and building a railway collection for virtually
all
of that period, I have decided to downsize. Its time to
pass on the
stewardship of much of this material to others
with the energy and enthusiasm to provide for its continuing
care. To do this, an auction
is planned for Saturday, 17 June
2000, in Tottenham.
To put this in context, I am not retiring from the hobby.
I will be retaining all
of my photos and slides, most of my
library, and a number of artifacts that have a continuing
personal value. And I will be looking forward to continuing
to
enjoy this great hobby of ours to the fullest, for many
years to come.
That said, and recognizing the non-commercial nature
of your excellent journal, would it be possible for you to
insert the foJlowing notice (or reworked version to
accommodate your style) in the Coming Events section of
the appropriate issue, prior to the mid-June auction date?
Saturday, June 17, 2000: Major auction of railway
artifacts, collectables and property, to be held at Alliston
Station, Tottenham, Ontario. From the collection of J.A.
Brown, plus additions from other collectors. Auction will
include a wooden
CPR caboose; steam loco number plates
and builders plates; various locomotive appliances;
signal equipment; signs; marker, switch, hand and desk
lamps; two original Wentworth Folkins paintings;
telephones and communications equipment; station
memorabilia; benches; misc. paper, prints and collectables,
and much more.
Also for sale is Alliston Station itself, built by the
Canadian Pacific Railway in 1906, converted to a fine
country residence while retaining an authentic railway
atmosphere. The station was featured in the November and
December 1991 issues of Branchline.
For information, please contact Sherwood Hume
Auctions, at (905) 878-4878, or by fax at (905) 878-7647.
E-mail: depot@bconnex.net. or humeauction@wwdb.org
Many thanks for your help, James A. Brown
CRHA CONVENTION
Just a reminder, Dont forget the CRHA convention
in Montreal, May 19 -22, 2000.
BACK COVER, TOP: No. 5107, built in 1919, was one of the first locomotives constructed for the newly-formed Canadian
National Railways. This picture shows
it on a CRHA excursion frol11 Montreal to Sherbrooke 011 October 13, 1962. This engine
is now preserved at Kapaskasing, Ontario. Photo by Peter
Mwphy
BACK COVER, BOTTOM: A CRHA fall foliage trip to the Laurentians was the occasion when this photo was taken at a runpast
on October 6, 1957. Engine 2467 was built by Montreal Locomotive Works in Jun.e 1948, and was scrapped in June 1960 at the
age
of only twelve years. Photo by Fred Angus
This issue of Car:adialJ Rail delivered to printer April 13, 2000.

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