Fred Gauthier Survivor — 6 Months 1 Day –1942 Almonte Train Wreck – Vern Barr

Fred Gauthier Survivor — 6 Months 1 Day –1942 Almonte Train Wreck – Vern Barr

How do you portray the depth of what an infant possibly experienced on a cold winter night on December 27th, 1942 in the 9th worst railway crash in Canadian history?  Here is the untold story of the baby that survived that fateful night– Fred Gauthier by Vern Barr. Fred was the baby that was found the next day in a tree near the Almonte War Memorial by the town hall and was totally fineafter being thrown by the train.

79 years ago today in 2021

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
28 Dec 1942, Mon  •  Page 3
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
29 Dec 1942, Tue  •  Page 11

This is a photo of the Gauthier family who took that fateful train journey and was involved in the Almonte train wreck December 28,1942. The baby is Freddy Gauthier who was thrown out the train window 

The Ottawa Evening Journal – Monday, December 28, 1942

Almonte Wreck Death Toll 36; 118 in Hospital; Icy Rails Blamed(See photos below)10 Ottawa Residents Perish In Crash; Many Are Still Unreported.  Death List Mounting From Among 200 Injured.  The ghastly story of last night’s railway disaster still was incomplete this afternoon.  Mounting hourly, the death toll has reached 36.  To the horror of the slaughter and the suffering was added the confusion and uncertainty of identifying all those whose lives were lost in Ontario’s worst railroad wreck of 32 years.  C.P.R. Statement:  In the latest of its statements the Canadian Pacific Railway said 33 had been killed and 118 injured when the troop train sliced through the three rear coaches of the Pembroke-Ottawa local boarding holiday passengers at the Almonte station.  Death had out-dated the railway’s list even as it was issued.  At noon there were 30 bodies in the basement of the Almonte Town Hall, one of them that of a child found in the wreckage late in the morning.  Aboard the hospital trains, bringing the injured to Ottawa, another four had died.  At the Civic Hospital one more was added to the death list.  This afternoon, with the total of dead at 36, hospital authorities reported others among the injured were in critical condition and might not survive.  23 Identified.  Of the dead, 23 had been identified.  Ten of them were residents of Ottawa.  Estimates of the number injured ran as high as 200.  While investigators yet had issued no statement on the cause of the disaster, railwaymen blamed icy rails, a down-grade in the line, and the congestion of holiday travel which disrupted running schedules.  The Pembroke-Ottawa local, crammed with people returning to work at the end of the holiday week-end, should have left Almonte an hour before the collision at 8.30 p.m.  The night was stormy, with sleet and snow falling, and the train had been delayed at each stop along its Ottawa Valley run by the record holiday traffic load.  Soldiers aboard the troop train said it had been travelling at “a fair rate of speed”.  Rolling as an extra, and making no stops for passengers, the troop train was on schedule when it research Almonte, where, for an hour, the track should have been clear.  The troop train was on a down-grade when its headlight, piercing the darkness and the added gloom of slanting sleet and snow, picked out the red lamps on the rear coach of the Pembroke-Ottawa local.  Brakes Failed.  Railwaymen theorized that at this moment when the troop train rolled down the grade leading to the Almonte station, its brakes failed to do more than slow it.  The wheels, locked by the brakes, they believed, skidded down the icy rails, sending the heavy locomotive plowing through the rear three wooden coaches of the standing train.  There were no sidings leading off the main line to which the troop train could have been switched before it slice through the local.  The crash was on a single-track main Canadian Pacific line.  Further down the grade, and closer to the Almonte station were switches leading to three or four sidings.  But between those switches and the troop train were the end cars of the local.  Investigators of the railway and the Dominion Board of Transport Commissioners were at Almonte today probing the tragedy.  Open Inquest.  At 11 o’clock this morning – 15 hours after the disaster – an inquest was opened by Coroner A. A. Metcalfe at the Almonte Town Hall, in the basement of which rested bodies of 30 of the dead.    
These pictures were taken by Wilma Munro, of Almonte,  with her “Brownie” camera in 1942.  She had many copies made and sold them in McDonald’s Store, Almonte, Ontario for 5 cents a copy.
Dead—With only a number of the 32 persons killed identified at an early hour this morning, following is a tentative list of the dead and injured:  DEAD – Melville C. Bailey, 19, soldier, of Calabogie, son of Mrs. Gordon Bailey, Calabogie; Miss Rae Burgess, Renfrew; Samuel H. Butler, Admaston, Ont.; Darlene Belcher, 22 RR No. 1, Arnprior, Ont. (identity positively established by father).  Miss Belcher worked in Ottawa.; Joseph Charron, 202 Bolton street, Ottawa.; Mrs. C. Couvrette, 41 St. Marie street, Wrightville.; Private E. J. Desjardins, Brockville, Ont.; Francis S. Herrick, 39, employee of Department of Transport, Ottawa, who resided at 396 MacLaren street.  His body was identified by his brother, Owen Herrick.; Private Michael Lapointe, Canadian Army Basic Training Center, Ottawa.; S. O. Link (or Lusk) of Renfrew.; Mrs. Mary Kelly, of Renfrew.; Pte. E. G. MacDonald, Chalk River, stationed at Kingston.; Miss Betty McPhail, Renfrew.; Janet McNab, daughter of Angus McNab, 592 Horton street, Renfrew.; Eldon Montgomery, of Arnprior.; AC2 K. G. Moorehouse, R.C.A.F., Kingston, Ont.; Lieut Douglas Merkham, 48th street west, Vancouver.; Harry F. O’Brien, 34, and his two-year-old son, Jack, 552 Hilson avenue, Ottawa.; Corporal P. O. Brien, Petawawa Camp, Ont.; Dorothy Rafter, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rafter, Gillam, Man. and Arnprior.; Gilbert Raymond, 15 Katharine street, Carleton Place.; Mrs. Gilbert Raymond, Carleton Place.; Cecilia Rowan, 297, Arlington avenue and RR No. 2, Renfrew.; Gordon Scheels, Renfrew.; Private W. S. Storie, C100824, Ottawa.; Turcotte baby.; Private Fred Volz, 72 Balsam street, Ottawa and Frank White, 30 Hanna street, Eastview, Ont.
InjuredAt the Civic Hospital;Guardsman Fred Gauthier, 38 LeBreton street, shock; Viola Armstrong, 19 of 26 Lewis street, head injuries; Mrs. Fred Gauthier, suffering from shock and possible fractured nose; and their five months old baby boy, shock and other undetermined injuries; Julius Carl Kitner, of Fort Erie, Ont., injuries about the head and eyes; Mrs. Carl Kitner, of Fort Erie, severe shock; Elizabeth McPhail, 20 of Winnipeg and residing at 180 Lisgar street; Myrtle Moore, 275 Booth street, severe shock.In Rosamond Hospital;Miss Patsy Foulds, 124 Flora street; Bob Scheel, of Arnprior, employed with Laurentian Air Services, Ottawa; Pte. Howard Hillard, of Renfrew; Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Wilson, of Renfrew; Muriel Schell, Arnprior; Margaret Petinsky, Renfrew; Nora Beronsky, Arnprior; Dorothy Walker.Other Injured;Agnes F. Andrecheck, No. 8 Service Flying Training School at Moncton; Mr. and Mrs. H. Beauregard, 207 Laurier avenue, Ottawa, and their nephew Larry Sutcliffe; Anna Barsky, Arnprior; Titania Bratyenko, Montreal; Lila Barr, Renfrew; Alice Barr, Renfrew; Aileen Bescinsky, no address; Norman Butler, no address; Miss Margaret Campbell, Renfrew, who works in Ottawa, injuries unknown; Mrs. Chartrand; Anna Chepeskie, Renfrew, T. A. Cook, 511 Gladstone avenue, Ottawa; T. H. Coombs, Renfrew; L. J. Colds, RCAF, Headquarters, Ottawa; Mrs. Comberford, no address; Mrs. S. Cutts, 117 Gloucester street, Ottawa; Pte. Gordon Evans, Bancroft, Ont.; Philip Freemark, Renfrew; Douglas Finney, 9, of Ottawa, injuries unknown; Ronald Finney, 94 Marlborough avenue, Ottawa; Mrs. Walter Finney, 94 Marlborough avenue, Ottawa, (son also injured); Mrs. Flora Frappier, Arnprior; Margaret Froats, Ottawa, 180 Lisgar street, not serious; C. A. Grierson, 118 Irving avenue, Ottawa; Myrtle Graziano, no address; D. A. Highland, Arnprior; Gilbert Imbleau, Renfrew; Mary Anne Jocko, 206 O’Connor street, Ottawa; Cpl. Sadie Kranz, CWAC, Golden Lake; Kay King, no address; Aileen Liscinsky, Renfrew; Margaret Levinski, Renfrew; Thomas Lynn, Mount St. Patrick, Ont.; Margaret Malloy, Renfrew; Edith McDonnaugh, Arnprior, serious; Helen McDenna, serious; Miss Betty MacPhail, 189 Lisgar street, Ottawa, serious injured; Leslie McHugh, Renfrew, a civilian, fractured leg and broken nose; Miss Muriel McLean, Arnprior; Marion MacMillan, 157 Wesley street, Westboro, Ont.; Anna McHugh, Renfrew; Mr. McRae, no address; Mrs. Jean Muirhead, 238 Slater street, Ottawa; Felix Melsiki, no address; C. R. Nicholson, 91 Stewart street, Ottawa; Ray Poole, 248 O’Connor street, Ottawa; Mrs. Jean O’Brien, 552 Hilson avenue, Ottawa; Mrs. H. F. O’Brien, 552 Hilson avenue, Ottawa; John O’Shea, Renfrew; Charles O’Reilly, Douglas, Ont.; Howard Osler, no address; Lois Pilon, 190 Gladstone avenue; Margaret Robertson, Turtleford, Sask.; Corp. Esther Ross, RCAF, (W.D.), Ottawa, Jackson Building, injuries unknown; Florence Rantz, Petawawa; Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Roach, Renfrew; Olive Scott, Renfrew; Mrs. Desmond Raby, Petawawa; Sadie Shellhorn, 26 Kippewa Drive, Ottawa; Sylvester Sullivan, Barry’s Bay, a civilian, possible fracture of the skull.  Cuts to face and body and shock; Theresa Sulphur, Renfrew; Milton E. Smyth, Pembroke; Ben Toristskee, Killaloe; Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Turcotte, 371 Cambridge street, Ottawa; Cecile Turcotte, no address; Mildred A. Viner, 430 Clarence street, Ottawa; Bridget Wendle, Renfrew; Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Wilson, Renfrew; Pte. Coulus Zigner, Barry’s Bay, stationed at Lansdowne Park; Bernard Tugent, no address; Gunnard Taccott; Francis Valiquette; and Mildred Vince, no address.Others Injured;Gunner Orville Belair, CATC, Petawawa; Norah Bososki, Arnprior; Cpl. Beauchamp, Pembroke; Talena Batunanko, 3499 City Hall avenue west, Montreal; Rita Burns, Renfrew; E. W. Burke, 24 Spadina avenue, Ottawa; Elizabeth Carter, Huntley; Zita Carter, Huntley; Ellen Carswell, Renfrew; Jean Carswell, Renfrew; Mrs. Hector Jones, Renfrew; J. W. Chartrand, Petawawa; E. H. Collings, 150 Front street, Belleville, serious injuries; Mrs. E. H. Collins, Belleville; QMS, B. G. Crowley, 404 Gilmour street and Pte. Arthur Charbonneau, Arnprior. (more listed but center of page is missing)Injured in Wreck Tell Experiences84 Stretcher Cases, Some 20 Walking – Injured Brought Here by Hospital Train.Vivid descriptions of how death and destruction tore through the rear coaches of their train at Almonte station were told by badly injured who arrived by special hospital train at Union Station at 5.30 this morning.  The train left Almonte with 84 stretcher cases and some 20 walking injured – but three of the most seriously hurt died en route – two men and a woman.  There was not a murmur of pain or complaint from the shattered and bleeding forms as they were laboriously lifted from the improvised ambulance cars and rushed by a fleet of civilian and military ambulances to city hospitals. One of the Bravest Injured.  One of the bravest of the injured was Mrs. Harold O’Brien, of Ottawa, a young matron returning from spending holidays in Petawawa.  Lying on a stretcher patiently waiting her turn to be taken to hospital, she told reporters her husband, a two year old baby and her sister, Mrs. DesRavey, of Petawawa, were separated from her in the crash and she did not know what happened to them.  She had been in one of the rear cars of the train and had suffered leg injuries and a head injury, which left her unconscious until medical help revived her.  Tearless and patient, she inquired vainly for her family.  (Her husband and baby were later reported killed.)  Two pretty sisters, Alice and Lilah Barr, were sitting near the rear end of the second – last car when the troop special crashed through it.  They are Renfrew girls, who work in the Transport Department here and were returning from Christmas holidays at home. Lilah suffered broken legs while Alice escaped with a badly cut wrist and hand.  “We were sitting near the door, side by side,” Alice said, “talking to Mrs. English, of Renfrew, an old friend of ours, when the crash came.  They had to cut away seats to get us out.  Mrs. English was killed.”  Man Thrown 40 Feet.  Tom Lynn, a young war worker returning to his job in St. Catherines, Ont., after spending the holidays at his home in Mount St. Patrick, near Renfrew, told a vivid story of the crash.  “I was in the rear car”, he said.  The engine tore through it and turned it right on end.  I was thrown 40 feet from the wreckage but did not lose consciousness.”  “But I could not help the others.  My leg was broken and I had to lie there in the snow until help came.  The doctors and nurses were wonderful.  They gave me morphine and put a splint on my leg and I should be all right.”  Wilfrid Moisan, of Montreal, described seeing one sailor catapulted out a window and another through a hole in the root.  “I had just boarded the train and was walking down the aisle of the third car from the end when the crash came”, he said.  “There was a sailor standing hear the drinking water tank.  He shot out the window and that is all I remember until I recovered consciousness several minutes later.”  Moisan and his wife both escaped serious injury.  Two Cars Smashed.  “The engine went right through the end car and half through the next one,” he said.  “I helped pull seven or eight people from the wreckage, some of them through windows.  They were badly hurt.  “I don’t know whether they were dead or not.  We took them to a theatre across the street from the station.  “Among those I helped was a sailor who had been thrown through the roof where it had buckled.  He landed about 25 feet from the train.  When we started to get on the train at Almonte my wife wanted to get on the rear car but I thought there might be more room up front.  I am sure glad we didn’t get on the back.”  Nursing Sister Ann Thorpe of St. John’s, Que., was a passenger in the second car from the rear end of the train.  She arrived in Ottawa on the hospital train, her white collar flecked with blood and with only one desire – to get to a hospital and continue helping to care for the injured.  “I can’t tell you much about what happened”, she said, “but I can tell you the doctors and nurses did a splendid job.  I was not injured and so I was able to help.  Now I must get to a hospital and get back to work.”  Everything Flew Apart.  Mrs. Ann Barski, of Arnprior, Ont., and her seven year old niece, Tatanni Bratzenko, of Montreal, rode from the hospital train to an ambulance on the same stretcher.  Both suffered arm injuries.  Mrs. Barski had a magazine wrapped around her arm for a splint while her niece sat up on the end of the stretcher, silent but smiling.  Mrs. Barski said she was riding in the centre of the last car, one which was telescoped by the other engine.  “I saw the lights of the train coming”, she said.  “It seemed to be going quite fast.  The suddenly everything just flew apart and I felt as though I was all in pieces.”  Pte. J. Bechamp of Pembroke, suffered a compound fracture of his left leg when he tried to save a companion, Miss Lois Pilon, of Ottawa, from injury.  Miss Pilon also suffered a leg injury, but less serious.  

Miraculous Escapes– Almonte Train Wreck

The Almonte Wreck Poem George Millar Dec 27 1942

Margaret Lisinski– Survivor of the Almonte Train Wreck

The Almonte Wreck Poem George Millar Dec 29 1942

A Personal Letter John Reid, Almonte 1942

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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

One response »

  1. Reblogged this on lindaseccaspina and commented:

    79 years ago today
    How do you portray the depth of what an infant possibly experienced on a cold winter night on December 27th, 1942 in the 9th worst railway crash in Canadian history? Here is the untold story of the baby that survived that fateful night– Fred Gauthier by Vern Barr. Fred was the baby that was found the next day in a tree near the Almonte War Memorial by the town hall and was totally fineafter being thrown by the train.
    Fred Gauthier Survivor — 6 Months 1 Day –1942 Almonte Train Wreck – Vern Barr


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