St-Hilaire train disaster
|St-Hilaire train disaster|
|Date||29 June 1864|
|Rail line||Grand Trunk Railroad|
|Type of incident||Signal passed at danger|
The St-Hilaire train disaster was a railroad disaster that occurred on June 29, 1864, near the present-day town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. The train, which had been carrying many German and Polish immigrants, failed to acknowledge a stop signal and fell through an open swing bridge into the Richelieu River. Though uncertain, the widely accepted death toll is 99 persons. The disaster remains the worst railway accident in Canadian history.
During the 19th century the Richelieu River served as an important waterway for trade between New York City and Montreal. Tourism also developed in the area greatly due to the steamboats that travelled up and down the river. The Belœil Bridge was built as a swing bridge so that the railway would not interrupt the shipping lanes.
On June 29, 1864, a Grand Trunk train carrying between 354 and 475 passengers, many of them German and Polish immigrants, was travelling from Quebec City to Montreal. At around 1:20 a.m. local time the train was approaching the Belœil Bridge. The swing bridge had been opened to allow the passage of five barges and a steamer ship. A red light a mile ahead of the bridge signalled to the train that the crossing was open and it needed to slow. However, the light was not acknowledged by the conductor, Thomas Finn, or the engineer, William Burnie, and the train continued towards the bridge.
At 1:20 a.m. the train came onto the bridge and fell through an open gap. The engine and eleven coaches fell through the gap one after another on top of each other, crushing a passing barge. The train sank into an area of the river with a depth of 10 feet (3.0 m). 99 people aboard the train were killed and 100 more were injured. Among the dead was Thomas Finn and the fireman aboard the train. The engineer was hurt slightly in the accident but was able to escape the wreck. The disaster was blamed on the conductor and engineer for failing to obey the standing order to stop before crossing the bridge. The engineer, who had only recently been hired, claimed that he was not familiar with the route and that he did not see the signal.
The Grand Trunk Railway sent large numbers of men to assist the recovery and rescue efforts. The hospitals and other institutions in nearby Montreal were used for the injured passengers. The dead were also brought to Montreal and buried in the Mount Royal and Roman Catholic cemeteries.
- "Grand Trunk Railway of Canada". Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
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- "MP-0000.1452.84 Richelieu River, Belœil Mountain, St. Hilaire, QC, about 1870". McCord Museum of Canadian History. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
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- "Keys to History:". McCord Museum of Canadian History. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- Alfred Sandham (1870). Ville-Marie, Or, Sketches of Montreal, p 169