Local Hero - Arthur Guertin

CSTM Matt-2229

On 29 March 1946 there was a serious fire in the E.B. Eddy wood piles in Hull, close to the Interprovincial Bridge.   Railway historians recognize this as a significant event because it destroyed the trestles that were used by the Hull Electric Railway to gain access via the Interprovincial Bridge to their station in Ottawa close to the Chateau Laurier.  This ended Hull Electric service to Ottawa and was the beginning of the end for this railway which ceased operation the following year.  The Canadian Pacific line between the Interprovincial Bridge and Hull Beemer was also cut and for some time Canadian Pacific was forced to reroute all train movements between Ottawa Union and Hull first, via the Canadian National cross town tracks to Ottawa West, and subsequently via the Sussex Street sub. to the Prescott sub. at Ellwood thence to Ottawa West.

However, while railway historians have focused on the damage that was done to the railway bridge approaches there was a more small drama going on in the Eddy lumber yard itself.  The Ottawa Citizen of 30 March 1946 explains:

“While flames at the Eddy plant were threatening the source of his livelihood and in some cases the lives of his fellow workers, Arthur Guertin, engineer in charge of the E.B. Eddy yard engine, called upon two companions and risked his life to remove from a particularly dangerous position, two tank cars filled with chlorine gas.

“Manning a decrepit steam engine which is used to haul freight cars from one section of the property to the other, Engineer Guertin cautiously approached the flame swept tanks and with the aid of Frank Cain, 399 Arlington avenue, and Arthur Meunier, 37 Frontenac street, Hull, coupled the two dangerous filled cars to the tender of his engine and pulled away.  They were placed in a position far removed from the reach of the flames and heat.

In an exclusive interview with a representative of the Evening Citizen, shortly before he left for his Aylmer home, Mr. Guertin said, "It was necessary to remove the two tanks to a safer part of the yard.  The danger of explosions was imminent as one of the tanks had been shown to be leaking.  Had they blown," he remarked, "the explosion would undoubtedly have taken the lives of all the firemen and workers within a broad radius."

Although the engineer accepted his feat of bravery as a commonplace job of work connected with his position, Mayor Raymond Brunet and director Emile Bond (the Fire Chief) looked upon his act as one of the most fearless they had seen in their several years of public service.

<>“A resident of Aylmer and a father of five children, Mr. Guertin has been employed by the company for a steady period of 19 years.  He was on duty at the time of the outbreak of the fire but his action, which, according to fire and city officials, was responsible for the saving of several lives, and was on his own initiative.” 

There is a picture accompanying this piece but it is too poor to reproduce here.  The caption refers to the “mechanical hero of the tremendous conflagration was Eddy's minute locomotive.  Its whistle shrieking stridently, the tiny engine worked ceaselessly through the night, hauling freight cars loaded with material out of the danger zone.”  Another picture shows rails which were described as "pretzelled".

E.B. Eddy had only one standard gauge steam locomotive.  It was an 0-4-0 saddle tank built by Montreal Locomotive Works in April 1926, serial number 65429 and carried the number 2.  (Number 1 was a Vulcan gas locomotive which went to Anticosti Island in 1929-30).  No. 2 is now at the Canadian Railway Museum, Exporail at St-Constant, Quebec.

CSTM Matt-0126

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, March 2009.

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