Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1917, August 19 - Heroism of Ottawa Trainmen Averts Greater Disaster to the Countryside at Dragon, near Rigaud, CPR., Montreal and Ottawa sub.

On 19 August 1917 there was an explosion at the Curtis and Harvey plant at Dragon near Rigaud.

Ottawa Citizen 20 August 1917

Heroism of Ottawa Trainmen Averts Greater Disaster to the Countryside at Rigaud
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Many stories of heroism have been told, and many stories of daring will never be told. Perhaps the most impressive piece of daring was accomplished by the train crew of No. 18 C.P.R. Sault train. This train is due at Rigaud at 9.11 a.m.  The first explosion took place at 8.55 a.m. and shortly afterwards the Sault train arrived at Dragon. By this time, flames were sweeping the plant, and the dense, heavy fumes almost hid the place from view. On  the track nearby were four cars of T. N. T. or trinitrate of toluol, the highest explosive with the exception of picric acid that is known. Engineer W. Griffith. 71 Bayswater, Ottawa; Conductor Harry Dunham. 100 Preston St.. Ottawa, and Brakesman W. B. Blake, 268 Booth Street, and M. Chapman. 171 Rochester St.. Ottawa, were the train crew.

Took a Long Chance.

Immediately following the first explosion, the second occurred. Engineer Griffith was notified that these four cars were on the track Without a thought of personal safety, but realizing only that should these cars explode, the results would be frightful, Engineer Griffith tooK the chance. The engine was uncoupled from the Sault train, and run up to the cars of T.N.T. The cars were coupled on. and engineer Griffith began a real race with death. Spectators who witnessed the deed of daring state that at times it was impossible to see the engine or the cars of deadly explosive as they were enveloped in the sheets of flame and clouds of smoke.

Journey Made In Safety.

The perilous journey was finished in safety however, and the lives of innumerable workers and residents, not only of Dragon but of Rigaud and surrounding places, were saved through the pluck of an Ottawa engineer and his assistants. The report of this heroic deed has aroused the greatest enthusiasm and admiration in Rigaud and Dragon, and many of  the officials of the Curtis and Harvey Company expressed their admiration of the train crew in no uncertain manner.

Ottawa Journal 20 August 1917

Railwaymen are heroes.

Shortly before 10 o'clock was performed the bravest deed of the disaster, with engineer "Billy" Griffith and fireman C. Broom, both of Ottawa as the heroes. Arriving in Rigaud about 9.11 o'clock, the "Soo" train, of which they were in charge, was held up owing to the explosions. After some wait, the suggestion was made by R. J. Smith, of the office staff of the Curtis-Harvey company, that an effort be made to remove from the siding four cars loaded with the high explosive which is designated by those familiar with it as "T.N.T."

The trainmen agreed, and they made a trip which has few parallels in the history of railroading. Making the run to Dragon, they took the siding, opened the throttle, and plunged into the midst of burning buildings filled with one of the most deadly instruments of the war. Through smoke and flames they proceeded until the cars were reached, made the coupling, and then hurriedy returned, removing what would, had it been touched by the flames, have provided a more terrific explosion even than the many which did occur.

The conductor in charge of the crew was Harry Dunham and the brakeman were W. S. Black and M. Chapman, all of Ottawa.

Montreal Gazette 20 August 1917

One of the Incident connected with the explosions was the part taken in it by a C.P.R engineer. Many explosions had taken place throughout the morning, and there was no certainty that there would not be others. Yet he ran down his engine to the siding and went into the works along the rails to take six [sic] cars loaded with explosive which were there.  He drew them out into safety. Many people commented yesterday on that as being a very plucky action. The fireman also deserves great credit.

Eastern Ontario Review 24 August 1917

Dragon Blown to Pieces.
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When the news of the terrible, explosion reached Ottawa, a large number of residents secured tickets for Rigaud, intending to go down to the scene of the accident by the train which left Central Station at 4 o'clock. The sightseers were doomed to disappointment, however, because orders had been issued to run the train right through Rigaud and Dragon without a stop. Many persons were turned back at the depot and told that the train would not stop at the scene of the explosion.
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"As soon as we thought the last explosion had died away, we took a chance and headed our engine right into where the four cars were lying on the tracks. The fire was raging fiercely at the time and the heat was overcoming and intense, but we had everything in readness [sic] and we lost very little time hooking up the cars and backing them out to safety.

In the foregoing words conductor Harry Durham [sic], 100 Preston street of the Soo train crew related the story of his escape with four other members of the crew pulling out four cars of "T.N.T." from a dangerous sidiing in the midst of sparks and surrounded by the flames of the Rigaud explosion on Saturday morning. Conductor Dunham speaks in the highest terms of the coolness displayed by his fellow members of the crew.

"It was just about 10:30," he continued, "when we learned that there were four cars lying on the siding we did not lose any time but cleared our engine and headed on to where the cars were stationed. Blake and Chapman fastened the cars and we backed right out. It was all over inside a few minutes."

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