Brandon marks 100 years since deadly train crash
19 killed after snow clearing train was hit by a freight train on Jan. 12, 1916
A sombre anniversary is being marked in Brandon Tuesday for one of the darkest tragedies in both the city and province.
It was 100 years ago on Jan.12, 1916 that nearly 20 workers at the CP rail yard, in what is now Brandon's east end, were killed on the job.
It was a bitter cold and foggy morning. The daytime high in Brandon was -36 C, the low was -46 C, without the windchill.
A group of workers had just taken a break from plowing snow at the rail terminal. They were resting in a caboose car in the yard with two flat-bed cars attached to the back.
Then, at about 10 a.m., a train hauling cattle ran into the back of a group of cars. The two flat beds were pushed up into the caboose of workers.
The results were catastrophic. Nineteen people were pronounced dead that day and in the days following.
"It would have cut them [the workers] in half," said Tom Mitchell, a retired archivist who worked at Brandon University for more than three decades.
It was a dark month for the city, but it was a very dark month for the north end,- Tom Mitchell, retired archivist
"It's an unprecedented accident, in Brandon at least," he said. "I cannot summon any other industrial accident [in the city] where there have been so many fatalities."
According to Mitchell, many of the workers killed in the incident were temporary help from overseas living in the north end of Brandon. Most were from a region occupied by Austria, which is now Ukraine and Poland.
"The people that suffered here were the most vulnerable in the city," said Mitchell. "They didn't have employment. They were being employed on a part-time basis to clear snow.
"They left families, young families, destitute and without any means of support. There was a large group of north-end women who came to the site to see whether their men had been injured or killed."
There was a large group of north-end women who came to the site to see whether their men had been injured or killed- Tom Mitchell, retired archivist
While tragic, Mitchell believes many in the city of 13,000 may not have identified with the tragedy or workers because of who they were and the country they came from.
The City of Brandon isn't planning any ceremony or commemoration to mark the event. In fact, Mitchell says not much has been done to mark the event over the years.
The tragedy in 1916 was followed just days later by a fatal fire that killed four people, another one of Brandon's most deadly incidents.
Mitchell believes those who died in the rail tragedy wouldn't have drawn the same sympathy from city residents as those who died in the fire.
He said the evidence can be found in inquiries that were completed following both incidents.
"It was a dark month for the city, but it was a very dark month for the north end," Mitchell added.
with files from Brandon Daily Sun archives