Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1916, December 27 - Rear end collision near St. Polycarpe, CPR., Winchester sub., 6 killed, 5 injured.

Chesterville Record, 28 December 1916

Five people are dead and another at an early hour this morning was not expected to live more than a few minutes as the result of a bad railway smash on the CPR line at St. Polycarpe Junction.  The Chicago-Montreal train, through failure of a switch, it is reported, crashed into the rear of the Cornwall local telescoping the rear four cars.  Four people were in addition seriously hurt and another slightly injured while all passengers got a bad shaking up.
List of dead and injured.
Coroners jury concluded that neither the brakeman, Arnett of the Cornwall train nor the operator for Soulanges Junction were to blame but that it was a clear case of misunderstanding.  Brakeman phoned Arthur Lalonde, Assistant Agent at St Polycarpe and asked if the Chicago express had passed.  Jury recommended that the CPR should have a man stationed at Soulanges Junction.

Montreal Gazette 29 December 1916

Inquest Into Railway Wreck at St. Polycarpe Will Reopen Today
Reports from the Royal Victoria Hospital last night indicated that all the victims of the St. Polycarpe Junction train smash of Wednesday evening would recover. The only one about whom any fears are expressed is M Malloy bridge and building master. He recovered but recently from an attack of pneumonia and in his weakened condition, the shook affected him more than the others. He has been removed to a private room in the hospital, but his condition is not considered critical. The other three patients are doing well. The inquest into the deaths cf the six victims, whose bodies are at the morgue, will be resumed this morning.
The latest official of dead and injured issued by the C.P.R. last night, is as follows:
A. J. Grant, Willlamstown, killed.
M. Dumoultn, Williamstown, killed.
W, Abrams, Williamstown. killed.
 L. Grant, Williamstown, died on train.
J. Kennedy, Williamstown and Montreal, died on train.
Conductor Hinton, Cornwall, died in hospital.
J. McCullough, Glen Brook, broken leg.
D. C. St. Amour, North Lancaster, shaken up.
Bridge and Building Master M. Malloy. Smith's Falls, shaken up.
Express Messenger Lavallee, Cornwall, shaken up.
Little real evidence save for that of Dr. Derome, the medical expert, was brought out at the opening of the inquest yesterday morning. Members of the two train crews, whose testimony will be essential in clearing up the case, were not available, but Coroner McMahon hopes to have all necessary witnesses on hand at the reopening of the inquiry.
The evidence of Dr. Derome was merely the establishment of the nature of the injuries which caused the death of the victims. Relatives of some the deceased then were called upon for identification,
David R. Bell, of Toronto, conductor, and Samuel G. Adams, also of Toronto, brakeman, both of the crew of the express train, were present at the inquest. Bell said that his engineer, James Babcock, who escaped injury, had told him, after the accident that the semaphore near Soulanges Junction had given him the right of way. Conductor Bell also reported a conversation with Conductor Hinton, of the Cornwall train, who died in the hospital yesterday morning. Hinton had told him that he had followed the usual custom in getting off at Souanges Junction and calling up St. Polycarpe Junction to ascertain if the line was clear. Bell stated that Hinton told him he had been told by someone at the other end of the line that No. 20, the express train, had gone through on the main line.The evidence given by Adams was generally in substantiation of that given by Conductor Bell.

Eastern Ontario Review (Vankleek Hill) Friday 29 December 1916
Also in the Kemptville Weekly Advance of 4 January 1917

Serious accident at Saint Polycarpe.
Montreal December 27 - five men were killed and seven injured this evening in a rear end collision when the C.P.R. Toronto train for Montreal ran into the local train from Cornwall at St. Polycarpe. The local train was standing at the time and the switch had been turned, which automatically turn the semaphore signal some distance down the track. At the time of the accident there was a heavy fog with sleet, and it is supposed that the engineer of the train from Toronto either failed to see the signals or misread them.
The killed and injured set out in detail
The accident occurred at about 6:40 at St. Polycarpe Junction some two miles from St. Polycarpe about 40 miles west of Montreal. The local train from St. Polycarpe was stopped when the train from the west came along. It is stated that the signals were set and the semaphore apparently turned but for some unknown reason the Toronto train continued on its way, crashing into the rear of the standing train and smashing several of the rear cars.
Car smashed to Pieces.
Fortunately there were few passengers in the cars at the rear of the train, which kept the list of dead and injured down. The standing train was badly damaged, several of the cars being smashed to pieces, while many of the passengers had narrow escapes. The dead and injured passengers wereimmediately taken care of, physicians being sent from nearby places, while a relief train was sent as soon as possible from Montreal.
Little damage was done to the track, and the wreckage was cleared within a few hours. The train from Toronto was practically undamaged, the passengers only received a severe shock. As soon as the track was cleared the train from Toronto proceeded on its way, bringing with it thebodiess of the dead and injured passengers and employees.
Details as to the identity of the dead and injured were hard to obtain and may be subject to correction owing to the fact that the accident took place several miles from a station, why the exigencies of railway work made it impossible to secure an official list of the casualties. The last reports received were that the train from Toronto was due to reach Montreal shortly before three o'clock and every possible arrangement had be made by the C.P.R. company to look after the injured and take care of the bodies of the dead.

Kemptville Weekly Advance 4 January 1917

Montreal, December 28 - A mistaken assurance to Conductor Hinton, of the local Cornwall train that the Chicago-Montreal flyer, which collided with it, had passed St. Polycarpe Junction, where the smash occurred, is supposed to have been the cause of the accident last night which resulted in the loss of six lives.
Conductor Hinton died this morning; but before he succumbed he is reported to have stated that he inquired if he could take his train on to the main line and was assured by somebody at St. Polycarpe that it was clear.  He instructed his engineer to go ahead.
This morning the C.P.R. handed out the following corrected and final list of dead and injured in the wreck;
A J. Grant, Williamstown, Ont.,  W. Abrams, Williamstown, Ont. M. Demoulin, Williamstown, Ont.
Died On Train
W. Abrams, Williamstown, Ont M. Kennedy, Montreal.
Died in the Hospital, Montreal
Conductor Hinton, Cornwall, Ont
J. McCullough, Glenbrook, leg broken; D. G. StAmour, North Lancaster, bruised; M. Malloy, baggage-master, Smiths Falls, Ont, bruised; - Lavallee, express messenger, of Cornwell, shaken up.
Coroner McMahon this morning opened an inquest.

Ottawa Citizen 29 December 1916

Conductor of Flyer Reported to Have Been Told That Main Line Was Clear.
(Special to The Citizen.)
MONTREAL, Dec. 28. Although very few details concerning the St. Polycarpe collision were forthcoming at the inquest opened by Coroner McMahon this morning, yet the evidence given showed that the accident may have been caused by incorrect telephone information regarding the position of the Toronto express.
Conductor Bell said in his evidence that he had spoken with the dead conductor Hinton and that he had explained that he had called up St. Polycarpe in the usual way and that somebody had told him that No. 20 had gone through on to the main line, and he had set the switches but just as he was pulling out from the junction No. 20 came up behind and hit them.
Who Gave the Word.
Conductor Bell had asked the telephone operator at St. Polycarpe about the telephone information, and the operator had denied giving the Information, but said that somebody who was around the station at the time must have given the word that the line was clear and that No. 20 had passed.
Saml. G. Adams, 1248 Gerrard street, Toronto, brakesman, declared that according to the semaphore the train had a clear track and that the brakeman of the other train acting on the other information received by telephone that no train was coming up behind had set the semaphore giving a clear line.
The inquest was adjourned.

Ottawa Citizen 30 December 1916

MONTREAL, Dec. 29. The inquest into the deaths of six men killed in the C.P.R. wreck at St. Polycarpe Junction has been adjourned until Jan. 13th.
The parish priest and another man who overheard Arthur LaLonde's reply to Brakeman Arrnett, according to LaLonde's evidence, that No. 20 train had passed St.. Polycarpe Junction, probabiy will be called as witnesses then. The coroner pointed out the importance of clearing up, if possible, the discrepancy between LaLonde's evidence and that of Arnett on the telephone messages exchanged between these two.

Montreal Gazette 15 January 1917

Was Due to Misunderstanding of Words Over Railway Telephone 
Witnesses Corroborated the Agent's Claim That He Told Trainman Express Had Not Passed

No criminal responsibility in regard to the St. Polycarpe wreck on the evening of December 27th last was found by the coroner's jury on Saturday last. The Toronto-Montreal express crashed into a Cornwall local, and six persons were killed, or died shortly afterwards. The cause of the wreck was made quite clear at the inquest. It was a misunderstanding between sub-agent Arthur Lalonde at St. Polycarpe and Wm. J. Arnett, the brakeman on the Cornwall train, which left the Soulanges Junction station when it should not have done so, and got on the track between Soulanges and St Polycarpe and in the way of the fast express, which was one hour late. The local should have stopped at Soulanges Junction until the express had passed St. Polycarpe. The brakeman, as was his daily custom, picked up the telephone at Soulanges Junction and telephoned to St. Polycarpe, asking whether the express had passed. The evidence was quite clear that Lalonde had answered "No, sir." Coroner McMahon and the jury, in view of the evidence to that effect from a number of witnesses, accepted the view that Lalonde had answered in the negative. Arnett said that he understood the answer to be in the affirmative, and coroner and jury took the view that he had understood the message to be in the affirmative. At the same time, the jury brought in a rider to the effect that the C. P. R. should have had an agent at Soulanges Junction to control the local train.
The coroner, in summing up the situation at the close of the evidence, pointed out that Arnett each evening was accustomed to ask the same question: "Has the express passed?" and, getting the answer usually in the affirmative, was prepared mentally to receive a similar answer on that night consequently mistook the "No. sir" for "Yes, sir. The coroner pointed out that Lalonde in telling his storv had said that he ran the words together, and that it was quite reasonable to suppose that the "nosir" had been taken for "yessir." Doubtless, said he, the railway company had already taken steps to provide against a repetition of such an accident, by insisting that answers should be longer than two or three words, and should be of such length as when repeated would leave of no doubt as to what was meant. The installation of the telephone despatching system, said he, had probably been made because it was felt to be proper and in the interest of the service, and the coroner spoke for some time on the advantages of telephone messages.
A. Clement, medical student of Laval. whose home is at St. Polycarpe, and who was in the station office at St. Polycarpe when Brakeman Arnett telephoned, was positive that Lalonde's answer had been in the negative. He was sure that it was a member of the Cornwall train crew that was calling. Clement also remembered that Lalonde, in hanging up the receiver, remarked that it was curious that the brakeman had hung up so abruptly, not asking him how many minutes the express was late. Lalonde, who was a life-long friend of the witness, had told him that he was to tell the brakeman that the express was 50 minutes late, but that Lalonde had no chance, to do so, the brakeman ringing off so quickly. He said that Lalonde was not a drinking man, and that, as far as he knew, Arnett also was not given to self-indulgence. He had seen Arnett come in later with the dead and wounded on what was left of the Cornwall train.
Rev. Father Achille Theberge, parish priest of St. Telesphore for the past eighteen years, was also in the office when the telephone messages were exchanged. He had been invited in, as the waiting room was cold, and was waiting for the Cornwall train, he having come into St. Polycarpe on another local. He heard the telephone ringing, did not know what was said at the other end, but heard Lalonde give an emphatic "No." He did not recall the word "sir" being used. This led the coroner and jury to the opinion that the two words were said without a break. The priest also heard Lalonde remark to Inspector Daoust, of the C. P. R. car Inspection department that it was curious that Arnett had not waited for him to say that the express was 50 minutes late. When the wrecked Cornwall train came in, and he went to the waiting room so as to be ready to give absolution to the dying, he heard Daoust remark: "Too bad; it is a misunderstanding. Lalonde said that the fast train had not passed." Several persons were around when Daoust made this remark.
Following the coroner's review of the circumstances, ths jury brought in the verdict cited.

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