Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

28 July 1882 - Collision at Smiths Falls, Brockville subdivision, Canadian Pacific, 1 killed

Ottawa Citizen 28 July 1882
The half past eleven freight train on the Brockville branch, when one mile south of Smiths Falls, collided with a special locomotive and tender coming from Brockville.  Engineer Burns was killed.  Some ten freight cars were damaged as well as both locomotives.
A special carrying Sir John Macdonald arrived shortly after the collision, but returned to Ottawa after an hour's delay.

Brockville Recorder 29 July, 1882
Only having a few minutes in which to give notice of the disaster on the C.P.R. yesterday before going to press, our report was gained huriedly and was therefore quite inaccurate.  It was nearly six o'clock this morning before anyone reached the scene of the accident, and not until that hour could accurate be obtained concerning the affair.

It now seems that Burns collided with the freight train, and not the express as stated yesterday, and he was running a single engine out at the time.  He left here about 11 o'clock with a special engine carrying a white flag cleared for Carleton Place. He stopped at Irish Creek, and was there, it is said, given a clearance for Smiths Falls.  About 1 miles this side of Smiths Falls, while rounding a bad curve, he met freight train No. 39 with 21 loaded flat cars, and though the special was running comparatively easy at the time, the smash which followed is described as terrific.  The whole cylinder of the special was torn from its platform and both engines left the track.  They met just over a culvert at the crossing and as the engines fell into the hole the loaded cars piled one above the other into the wreck.  Of the whole train of 21 cars, 16 were smashed, 12 being so completely ruined that they will likely be burned beside the track today.  They included rolling stock of the C.P.R., New York Central, Grand Trunk and Utica and Black River Railways.  Both engines were also torn to pieces, the headlights being compressed together into a space only a few inches in thickness.

The first thing to do after the accident happened was to look for casualties, and search was at once made for the missing.  All hands turned up except Engineer Burns, and in three or four minutes the poor fellow was found beneach the ruins of his engine, still alive, but so horribly burned and crushed as to leave no doubt as to his having met his death blow.  When the engines came together he had been thrown against the boiler head and there held while the whole contents of the heated boiler poured from the broken gauge glass directly over his body, liberally parboiling him from the waist up.  He was taken out and conveyed to a farm house where he lingered in great agony for about 9 hours, when death ended his sufferings.

Joe Burke, the fireman of the special, jumped when he saw the freight ahead and escaped almost miraculously.  He says that as soon as the freight was sighted he told Burns of his intention to jump.  Burns said nothing but at once applied the brake to the tender and seemed ready to jump as well.  Just before Burke took the ? he saw Burns give the brake lever another turn as if to still further check the speed and then all was drowned in the crash.  Horbridge, of Ottawa, the driver of the freight, stuck to his post and was unhurt.  His fireman, young Kelly, jumped and only received a few scratches.  The brakeman, George Cavanagh, of Smiths Falls, also jumped and was bruised about the head and shoulders.  Kelly, the conductor, also esacped injury.
Of course, to everyone, it is apparent that someone had blundered, but just upon (rest illegible).

Citizen July 31, 1882.  A careful investigtion into the accident leaves no doubt that the affair was the fault of the unfortunate engineer Burns, the only person who fatally suffered as a result of the accident. 
Mr. Burns, the engineer, was at the time of the accident, returning from Brockville with his engine having gone to that place with a special.  He had special instructions to keep the train under his charge clear of all trains and obeyed these orders until he left Irish Creek, about seven miles from Smiths Falls.  Here he totally disregarded what had been told him, and instead of waiting there for the regular freight from Carleton Place then almost due, should pass him he pushed on at a high rate of speed in the expectation of reaching the next station before it had left.

Almonte Gazette 4 August 1882

A Terrible Catastrophe - Engineer Burns Killed, and a Dozen Cars Wrecked - The Particulars of the Occurrence.
(From our Smiths Falls correspondent.)
On Friday last there happened just below this place a collision between a freight train and a locomotive, which for disastrous destruction of rolling stock, has been seldom equalled and never surpassed on the line. The disaster occurred about one and a half miles below S. Falls, at the crossing known as Fosters. There is at this place a considerable curve in the road, and as the land in the bend is overgrown with trees, only a short distance is in sight of the engineers. It seems that an engineer, or driver, as he is generally called, named Burns, and his fireman, Burke, had for some days been running a special train for the officials of the road, and were on the eventful day returning with the engine, to Ottawa, to take their usual place on the express. On arriving at Irish Creek, where they were to have passed the noon freight from the north, they found that it was seven minutes late, and Burns, being accustomed to running at the rate of a mile per minute, decided to make Smith's Falls, a distance of seven miles, in that time. But unfortunately the freight had gained two minutes, and the operator at Irish Creek not having notified the agent at Smith's Falls that the road was occupied, it was allowed to leave the station here, and the collision mentioned was the result. Both engineers remained at their posts. Burns was injured so severely that he died in less than three hours after the occurrence of the accident; the other, Borbridge, received no hurt of any kind. The firemen both jumped from the rapidly approaching engines. One, Burke, escaped without a scratch; the other, Kelly, fell and received an injury to his back. There were on the freight train, besides the occupants of the engines, two brakesmen and a conductor. The conductor, who was in the last car remained in his place, the brakesmen jumped from the cars, all three escaping scot free. Poor Burns, having no weight at his back, stood a small chance. When the shock came he was thrown forcibly against his engine, striking the glass water-gauge with his face and receiving a severe cut under the eye. At the same time the coal from the tender was piled around him so that he was held fast in this position, the steam and hot water escaping from the broken gauge meeting him in the face and scalding him most severely. He was also compelled from his position to inhale the escaping steam, which doubtless was the immediate cause of his death. In this condition and place he was found by Mrs. Hawkins, who, hearing the shock, and thinking it might be the passenger train, which was due about that time, ran quickly to the spot, and seeing the poor man, bravely attempted to release him. She was shortly joined by Mr. Thos. Foster, and with his assistance got him out and laid him on the grass. This brave woman remained by him while he lived, attending to his wants and trying to relieve his sufferings. A physician was summoned from the town, and he was carried to the house of Mr. John Sharp, but died in a few minutes after his arrival there. Such was the force of the meeting that both engines rose from the rails, and, breaking loose from the cars were thrown about 15 yards along the track. The train itself was completely srecked, twelve cars being piled in one great heap. All traffic on the line was suspended for about twelve hours. Crowds of people visited the place, anxious to see the consequences of what we hope will prove a very rare occurrence on this rail-road.
formed a wild, weird picture of destruction. The workmen, moving hither and thither with their torches, looked, in the pale light of the moon, like ghastly spectres hovering around the wreck, while their loud "yo ho's", sounded out upon the still night air and rendered the scene still more dreadful. What a sight it was! And 100 yards away lay the corpse of the fearless driver, a victim of his own to eager desire for haste! A striking instance of the truth of the old adage, "the more haste the less speed."
From the engineer of the freight we learned that it was running at a rate of from 15 to 20 miles an hour. He was about five minutes late when he left the Falls. When asked why he remained on the engine he said that an engineer was much safer there than he would be were he to jump. In jumping he ran the risk of falling and perhaps breaking a leg, so that he would be unable to get out of the way, and would be almost certainly crushed to death by the falling cars. He saw the impending collision, and after doing everything he could to make it as light as possible, he prepared himself for the shock, ready to take every chance of life. The following is the account given by fireman Burke, who is well known in this place, having lived here for many years, and attended our High School, being one of the cleverest puexpress the next week, but for the last few days we had been running a special train for the officials on the road. We were on our way to Ottawa to take the night express as usual. Often at that time of day cows would be on the road. As we were running along at a pretty good speed, I saw Burns straighten up, and knew something was wrong, but thought there were some cows in the way. In a moment however, I saw the freight coming round the bend. I sprang to the brake and turned it on with all my strength, while the driver turned off the engine and reversed as quickly as possible. As soon as I saw we had reached our slowest speed, and when the engines were about 40 feet apart, I jumped, and, alighting on my feet, ran out on the road to be out of the way of the falling cars. Looking around, I saw Kavanaugh, who had also jumped, standing clasping his hands when he saw me running. Burns seemed to think he could put on the brake tighter than I had done, and turned to do so. Finding it quite tight, he was returning to his engine when the collision took place, and, not being ready for the shock, was thrown forward into the position in which he was found."
An investigation has resulted in placing the fault of the accident on the shoulders of the deceased driver, who left Irish Creek on his own responsibility and against the express orders of the agent there, who refused to give him a clearance. The railway company paid all expenses incurred to anyone on account of the accident. Their loss will be over $10,000.
The deceased engineer was buried on Sunday, a special train being run to accommodate the employees along the road. Burns having been a Free Mason, the lodge here assembled, intending to attend his funeral, but the railway authorities would not allow any but employees to go on the train; so they were compelled to march back, much chagrined at the failure of their purpose. Some who had got on the train were put off as they were discovered here and there along the line.

Almonte Gazette 11 August 1882

THE LATE COLLISION. - is human life worthless, that a man can be sacrificed and no inquiry made about it? Here was a man permitted to take an engine and start for Ottawa, his coming being announced by the train ahead of him, killed by a collision with another engine, and, to all intents and purposes, the company say "served him right." It is evident that "someone had blundered," and who it was is the duty of the authorities to discover. Of course poor Burns, not being able to speak for himself, has to bear all the blame, but that is a state of things very unsatisfactory, and in the interest of the employees, as well as of the general public, a searching inquiry should be made as to whether the line is worked by a system that can be relied on, or at haphazard, and at the will of every employee who has charge of an engine

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