The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919, in the North End neighbourhood of Boston,
What a sweet story and quite true. They say on warm summer days you can still smell a scent of molasses in the air around the fire station!
Results were devastating.
“First you kind of laugh at it, then you read about it, and it was just horrible
A molasses wave 40 foot high poured out of the container killing 21 people. Imagine living in a basement apt and having this sweet sticky liquid pour it. It was like fly paper.
A sea of more than 1,500,000 gallons of molasses, freed by the sudden explosion and col-lapse of a giant iron tank, sent a tidal wave of death and destruction-stalking through North End Park and Commercial st shortly after noon yesterday. Casualty lists furnished by the various hospitals total 11 dead and 50 Injured. Six wooden buildings were demolished, one heavy steel support of the elevated structure was knocked down and others were so weakened that they will have to be replaced. A score of Public Works Department horses were either smothered In their stalls by the flood of molasses or so severely Injured as their stable collapsed that they were shot by policemen to end their suffering. The giant molasses tank, having a capacity of 2,360,000 gallons, was located at 529 Commercial st, west of North End Park. It was the property of the Purity Distilling Company, a subsidiary of United States Industrial Alcohol Company. The tank and contents were valued in round figures at $250,000. It Is estimated the total property loss will not exceed $500,000
The molasses was distilled into industrial alcohol used to produce military explosives and the anarchy movement. The tank owners stated that anarchists blew up the tank. Then there was the fact that molasses was used in booze and prohibition was knocking at the door. Most of the residents of the North End were Italian, they were immigrants, and they were not citizens, so they had very little to say.
So this monstrous 2.3 million-gallon tank placed 3 feet from Commercial Street was erected without a whimper of protest, and no city official complained even after it started to leak from day one. The molasses flood did for building standards what the Coconut Grove fire did for fire codes as there were no regulations at the time. The molasses tank, which was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, didn’t even require a permit. After the judge ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, construction standards began to get stringent, first in Boston, then in Massachusetts, and finally across the country.
Buildings swept away West of the tank, were buildings occupied by the Bay State Railway Company. Between the giant tank and the water front is the house of . Engine 31, a fireboat of the Boston Fire Department, and next beyond that, on North End Park, is a recreation, or headhouse, on a small pier. East of the tank, and adjoining North End park, near Commercial St, were the buildings of the North End Paving Division of the Public Works Department of the city of Boston. These included a small office building, a stable and some sheds. All these buildings,, as well as the frame dwelling of Mrs Bridget Clougherty at 6 Copps Hill terrace, which is across Commercial st, were quickly destroyed.
There was no escape from the wave. Caught, human being and animal alike could not flee. Running in it was impossible. Snared in its flood was to be stifled. Once it smeared a head–human or animal–there was no coughing off the sticky mass. To attempt to wipe it with hands was to make it worse. Most of those who died, died from suffocation. It plugged nostrils almost air-tight.
During the four years it was in operation, workers reported hearing groaning noises every time the tank was filled with syrup, and it was well known that the structure was leaky, particularly to neighbourhood kids. Kids would collect and eat the molasses that oozed out of the tanks. The tank leaked constantly, worrying employees and neighbours. But in their rush to keep up with demand, company officials just repainted the tank in the same colour as the leaking molasses.
They said when metre readers went into the basements of those buildings across the street from the molasses company years later they could still smell molasses. Which makes perfect sense to me, because those basements were filled up to the first floor with molasses.
I saw this on Charles Dobie’s history pages and really had to find out the story behind this photo. If you love photos from the past this page of Mr. Dobie’s is the place to check out.
So where today would this location be? Thanks to
David C Elgear – well, the tracks actually hit the SJAM just past the beach (where the Transitway merged). I would assume it was a little further along. Lawn Avenue is also in the story….it is up parallel to Carling Ave just past Carlingwood…..a little bit of a hike
Ottawa Journal Thursday 26 June 1913
Saw Train Wrecked; Tells Thrilling Story of the Scenes After the Crash Westboro Resident was Watching Express from Electric Car
Four Coaches Suddenly Jumped Outwards Into the River – Terrible Scenes Immediately Followed.
Mr. H. Hill, of Westboro, witnessed the wreck. Mr. Hill and his wife had taken a car ride to Britannia. He says: “Returning, when near McKellar Townsite, between McKellar homestead and Mason’s mill. I noticed the train coming. Two track-layers had just stood aside to allow the train to pass when suddenly four coaches upset. Two fell inwards and two outwards into the Ottawa River. The two which upset towards the shore side of the tracks fell on the two track men. They must have been killed.
“The engine and first three coaches and the last two did not leave the rails. The engine and first three coaches broke away from the wreck and went forward. Then the last coach of the three broke loose again from the engine and front two cars. The last two coaches stood on the track. They did not telescope. Two of the cars, the ones which fell inwards, buckled and fell nearly lengthwise. We got one man out from right underneath one of these cars. His chest was badly mangled and he died immediately afterward without gaining consciousness.
“The cars in the river were only half submerged and when the rescue party arrived we broke in the windows and commenced to pull out the people in these cars'”
“Some of the dead came from these cars. Whether they were pinned down and drowned in that way, I do not know. They may have been stunned and drowned in this manner.
The first people we took out of the cars on the bank were a man and a boy with their hands badly injured. They were placed in the ambulance and hurried to the hospital. The first doctors to arrive on the scene were Dr. I.G. Smith and Dr. Kidd.
We took a Salvation Army girl out of the first coach to go into the water. She was uninjured and was taken to the Salvation Army headquarters in the city. Another old gentleman, his wife and five children were in the last coach to overturn. The old gentleman broke a window and climbed out. They were all uninjured. A girl of about seven years of age and her brother of fifteen years were on their way to Edmonton, to meet their father. They were with their mother and she is as yet unaccounted for. They were taken from a coach which overturned into the water, and the supposition is that their mother was drowned.
“There were quite a number of foreigners, Russians, Scandinavians, and others in the colonist car which overturned into the water.
From what I could see they will be unable to find just how many are in the cars which went into the water until the wrecking crew lift the cars. One of the cars broke of its trucks and fell in the stream nearly turning upside down. It finally lay on is (sic) side.
Old Man’s Story “The old gentleman with the five children told me his experience of this wreck. ‘I was standing up’, he said, ‘when I felt the car going over. After the first shock I braced myself and fell into the corner without any injury. I was merely shaken up. Although it happened in a second it felt as if it took the car half a minute to fall on its side. The Salvation Army girl was thrown violently from one side of the car to the other side of the car but was uninjured.
“The first men on the scene were the section men,” continued Mr. Hill “I and some other people in the car ran across the fields to the train, but the section men commenced the work of rescue immediately.
“Two girls who live close to the wreck, the two Misses Barrie, did heroic work in attending to the injured. They carried pails of water and stimulants around to the injured, helped dress wounds and assisted the surgeons. “Mr. Dunning, who lives close to the scene of the wreck, telephoned to the Chief of Police, also for ambulances and doctors, and it was due to him that ambulances and autos to care for the injured reached the scene of the wreck so quickly. He also provided linen to dress the wounds received by the injured. The first ambulance arrived about 15 or 20 minutes after the wreck had taken place.
“There was a lady and her daughter taken from the first car to turn into the water. The lady’s head was badly crushed. Her daughter was uninjured but hysterical. The most pathetic incident was that of the two children bound for Edmonton. They searched the faces of each injured person taken from the wreck, looking for their mother.
“Whether the accident was caused by a spreading rail or not I do not know. When I got there one of the rails was turned clear of the ties altogether. I do not know what the section men were doing at that spot but I imagine that they were engaged in laying new ties.
There is no curve at that spot, so I imagine that the track was weakened in some way and that the weight of the engine spread the rail and the swing of the back coaches would strain the weakened track and bulge it to one side. I didn’t hear any of the officials discussing the cause of the wreck.
The insides of the cars were very badly wrecked, although the cars themselves were not telescoped. The seats were ripped every way , all torn from the floor. The floors were not turned up, but the sides on which the cars fell were caved in and smashed to splinters. I think that the majority of the people hurt were on the side which fell and that the fall of the heavy seats, torn from their fastenings, caused quite a number of fatalities.”
Ottawa Journal 26 June 1913
Over 5,000 visited scene of wreck. Inquiry is ordered. Enquiry into the cause of fatal wreck ordered injured recovering Death list now totals 8, and injured sixty-five
CPR will open inquiry tomorrow – woman believe dead is found alive – woman passenger disappears. The inquest in connection with the tragic wreck of the Imperial Limited at McKellar Township yesterday afternoon was opened by Coroner Dr. Craig at noon today. The jury met at Rogers and Burney’s undertaking parlors, Laurier Avenue, and adjournment was made till tomorrow night in the courthouse, Nicholas Street.
All that took place today was the formal identification of the body of John Peace, Glasgow, Scotland by his chum, a man named Cutt of the same place. The inquest will be nominally into the death of Peace, but will really concern itself with the whole tragedy and it cause.
Messrs George Hodge, general superintendent, and C Murphy, general superintendent of traffic for the CPR arrived in the city this morning, and the company’s inquiry into the circumstances will begin tomorrow at the Broad Street Station. Superintendent Gilliland of the Ottawa – Chalk River division of the CPR on which the accident occurred is here from Smith Falls.
Seen by a Journal reporter, Mr. Gilliland denied the report that any section men have been killed, but admitted that section men had been working on the right-of-way in the vicinity of the wreck. “I don’t know how the report that section men had been crushed to death had his origins,” he said. The Montreal – Ottawa division of the CPR over which superintendent Spencer has jurisdiction and responsibility, has its western limit at the end of the Broad Street terminal yards, or about 2 miles east of the place where the derailment happened.
The monetary loss to the company will not be great, according to opinions expressed this morning. While the two cars that went down the embankment into the river are now of practically no value the other two that were twisted into the opposite direction can, according to Mr. Gilliland, be still repaired and used.
The track was cleared by 6:30 this morning and a great part of the morning was spent in raising the four cars. This will take some time.
There are several changes in the list of fatalities. Mrs. Bunting, of Winnipeg, and her little child were reported this morning to have been among the killed. As a matter of fact they are stopping at the home of Mr. E. Hurry, of Woodroffe. Mrs. Bunting and her four children came through the accident with no very great injury, although the mother has slight injuries about the back.
The body supposed to have been that of Mrs. Bunting proved to be that of Mrs. McClure and Edmonton woman, of about 52 years of age. She was on her way out to Edmonton after a visit. The child found and said at first to be the daughter of Mrs. Bunting is the granddaughter of mrs. McClure. Its mother who escaped from the wreck with only slight injuries is at 131 Lawn Avenue, the home of Mr. John Sarsfield. Woman disappears.
Strange things can happen at times of great excitement, such as that which prevailed after yesterday’s accident, and strange things did. One of the most remarkable was the sprinting away of a woman who had come through the wreck physically unscathed but with her nervous system badly shaken. She was standing beside the cars sobbing her sorrow for the less fortunate friends, when a helpful woman took her, and led her away. Those taking the names of survivors failed to get a record of this woman’s identity, and since the accident she has not been heard from. Superintendent Spencer of the CPR is anxious to get in touch with her. John Donnelly of Glen Island, has left St. Luke’s Hospital fully recovered. He was pinned under a seat and nearly drowned.
During the afternoon and evening the Ottawa Electric Railway carried about 5,000 passengers out to the wreck. Cars from every service in the city were rushed on to the Britannia line to accommodate the overflow.
Yesterday I watched ‘And the Birds Rained’- It was a wonderful French Canadian film with subtitles after a book called: (‘Il pleuvait des oiseaux’). Stearing closely to the award-winning Jocelyne Saucier novel on which it’s based, this eco-friendly, elegantly delivered tale about the sunset changes in the lives of a trio of graybeards living in the woods. One involves Ted Boychuk who some say was killed, while others are sure he survived and continued to roam throughout the north. A photographer is trying to record images of all those who survived and is in search of hermits she has heard of, hoping that among them is Boychuk, her last subject. The author of the book was inspired by some paintings by members of the Group of Seven. None of them had experienced the fires first hand, but several painted the ravaged landscapes.
On July 29, 1916, fires which had been burning for some weeks around settlers’ clearings along the Timiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway were united by strong winds into one huge conflagration. Burning easterly along a 64 km front, it largely or completely destroyed the settlements of Porquis Junction, Iroquois Falls, Kelso, Nushka, Matheson, and Ramore. It also partially razed the hamlets of Homer and Monteith, while a smaller fire caused widespread damage in and around Cochrane. It took an estimated 223 lives, more than any other forest fire in Canadian history, and led to the development of improved techniques and legislation for the prevention and control of forest fires. I had no idea about this part of Canadian history– so I thought I would document it.
Bob and Maggie knew they didn’t have much time. The fire was raging toward them from the other side of the lake and it was big. And a small lake is no match for a forest fire. The fire jumps from shore to shore with its searing heat like nothing is in the way.
The fire was almost upon them, the smoke had turned day into night and they could hear the roar. No cars. No telephone. No first responders to airlift them out.
They argued with their neighbours who planned to hide in the cellar of their home. But to no avail. They parted ways with their neighbours; Bob and Maggie headed for the lake. They waded in up to their chests and Bob told Maggie to get ready to hold her breath and go under the water when he gave the word.
Bob and Maggie headed for the lake. And in chest high water, Bob waited until the last moment to give the word as the fire leapt across the lake. They went under the water and held their breath as long as they could stand it while the fire passed over their heads. Maggie came up first, then Bob. Maggie’s eyes were scorched by the smoke and burning sap and she was blind. But they survived.
The neighbours who hid in their cellar all perished. In all, 223 people lost their lives in the Great Fire of 1916, the worst in Canadian history. That was the official death toll – some estimates were much higher.
On the 8th of April 1998 the citizens of Lanark crowded on to the main street of that village to watch a home that was in danger of being swept away being covered by national news. In other parts of the Lanark Highlands, as well as the village of Lanark, the Clyde River had overflowed their banks and a state of emergency was called for the area.
The Ontario Provincial Police had also called in a helicopter to search for those who might be stranded by flooded roads. Pakenham had also been at the mercy of the Mississippi River and I remember the Riverbend trailer park near the town limits being underwater.
Even those with double sump pumps found themselves in waist high water in their basement while Water Street completely flooded. Two hundred members of the military had descended on the village of Lanark while another 100 went up to Dalhousie Lake to fill and place sandbags around the local homes. Lanark set up a billeting system at private homes rather than open a shelter.
A Mississippi Mills firefighter was quoted as saying that the ice storm of 1998 was a terrible inconvenience to everyone, but this was a disaster. Firemen soon found out that they were better fighting fires than floods and Beckwith, Glen Isle Pakenham, Dalhousie Lake were all affected but none so seriously as the village of Lanark.
Because most people were not covered by flood insurance –some wondered if they would be eligible for some government coverage similar to the ice storm of January 1998. After it was all over some played the blame game while others reviewed where they might have gone wrong and seriously looked at those who had built on flood plains.
There are other photos of the flood on Google Image- but I refuse to pay $19.95 each to put them up on here but– do check out the 4 different photos by clicking here. There is even one of Jason Labelle age 14 at the time riding his bike and The Ark which as you know was flooded.
Eastern Ontario and Quebec, March 28 – April 15, 1998. Warm weather and thunderstorms caused spring flooding. In Ontario, the Clyde River, Ottawa River, Mississippi River and rivers feeding Lake Nipissing overflowed. The lower Trent System below Peterborough from Rice Lake to Bay of Quinte also experienced flooding. States of Emergency were declared in these communities: Lanark Highlands, Village of Kearney, Township of Drummond, North Elmsley, Beckwith Township, Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills. In Quebec, over 15 rivers flooded and caused the evacuation of 3,697 people in 140 municipalities. Rivers on the North Shore of St. Lawrence River, St. Lawrence River, Assumption River, Chateauguay River, Richelieu River, Ottawa River, Lake St. Pierre and Lake Champlain flooded. Damage mainly occurred in the MontÃrÃgie and Mauricie regions.