Another Local Hero - Merland J. Bennett

This is an aerial photograph of the Ottawa West area illustrating the location of the incident described.  The Canadian was coming off the Prince of Wales Bridge and took the curve past Ottawa West station and across Bayview Road.

In Branchline for May 2005 I wrote about Canadian Pacific locomotive engineer William McFall who was posthumously awarded the Edward medal for bravely staying on his locomotive as it was about to run into a washout at Alcove, Que. However, Mr. McFall was not the only Ottawa area railwayman who was recognized for bravery.

Merland J. Bennett was a switch tender working on the Canadian Pacific at Ottawa West on 14 February 1961.  The 36-year-old yardman, was standing near the Bayview Road crossing as the westbound Canadian came over the bridge from the Hull side of the Ottawa River.  As the train neared the west end of the platform, he saw a three-year old child playing on the tracks in the path of the train.  Horrified, Mr. Bennett rushed over to grab the child, scooped up the scared youngster and jumped to the north side of the tracks, as the gleaming train picked up speed and continued on.

A Carnegie bronze medal and $500 cash was subsequently presented to Mr. Bennett.

The citation from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was:

“Merland J. Bennett saved Robert McKenzie from being killed by a train, Ottawa, Ontario, February 14, 1961. Robert, 3, wandered onto a railroad crossing and stood between the rails of a track on which a train was approaching at 12 m.p.h. From the station platform Bennett, 36, railroad switch tender, saw Robert when the train was about 400 feet from him. Shouting warnings, Bennett ran toward Robert, who moved from the crossing 130 feet away onto the snow covered roadbed, but still remained between the rails. Bennett ran over the icy pavement of the crossing and stepped onto the track at a point about 110 feet ahead of the train. At that time the engineer saw Robert and Bennett and sounded the whistle but did not apply the brakes. Robert then fell between the rails to almost prone position. Bennett ran on the track ahead of the train and reached Robert. He tried to take hold of Robert's clothing but missed. On his second attempt be grasped Robert by his jacket and lifted him into his arms. Bennett jumped from the track with Robert as the locomotive approached to within 30 feet of them. The train passed at undiminished speed.”

Mr. Bennett who, at that time lived on his farm at Breckenridge, Que., had "great respect for trains,” having lost part of his right hand in a yard accident in July, 1958.

The Canadian Pacific Railway publication “The Spanner” of April 1962,page 23, has a picture showing the award ceremony.  Mr. G.W. Miller of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission is presenting the bronze medal to Mr. Bennett with CPR Smiths Falls Superintendent A.W. Harris looking on.


 Ottawa Citizen 14 February 1961.
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission web site:
 Canadian Pacific Railway “The Spanner” April 1962. (thanks to Bruce Chapman)

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, February 2007.

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