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Alberta

Painful History: The worst tragedy in the history of the Northern Alberta Railways

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This article is submitted by members of the Alberta Railway Museum

CARBONDALE JUNCTION
On November 10, 1959, 13.6 miles North of Dunvegan Yards, the worst tragedy in the history of the Northern Alberta Railways (NAR) occurred. As a result, four people died and half a dozen men were released from their positions following a public inquest.

STATION HISTORY
The hamlet of Carbondale, North of Edmonton’s Dunvegan Yards, was at one time home to a small railway station on the Northern Alberta Railways (NAR) line. NAR was a CN-CP Rail joint venture that operated throughout Northern Alberta from 1929 to 1981. Carbondale is where the mainline split, allowing passengers and freight either West to Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek, or East to Fort McMurray.

The station was not only a stop en-route to several destinations along the line but, from 1956-1959 it was also the home of Station Agent Arthur “Art” Fraser, his wife Alice, and their youngest of three children, son Kelly (18 years) who were previous station agents in Smith, Alberta.

Courtesy of Shannyn Rus, 2020

SERIES OF TRAGIC EVENTS
On November 10, 1959, the weather was cool and a bit windy as the sun was peaking over the horizon. Carbondale Station was closed until 9am on weekdays and the Frasers were nowhere to be seen. NAR passenger train No.2 was southbound behind CN steam locomotive 5115, having left Grande Prairie the night before, destined for Edmonton. No.2 passed through Morinville at about 7:51 a.m., and was due at Carbondale at 8:00 a.m., on schedule, but was not scheduled to stop.

While the passenger train was headed south, NAR Train No.31, lead by NAR diesel locomotives 202 & 208 with 119 freight cars, left Edmonton behind schedule. In a rush to depart from the city at 7:20 a.m., crew members had improperly placed a tank car filled with gasoline directly behind the two engines, a violation of railway marshalling operating rules.

Upon reaching Carbondale at 7:51 a.m., No.31 moved to switch onto a sidetrack to allow the southbound passenger train to pass, but several cars detached from No.31 and were on the main track as the passenger train quickly approached. In a desperate attempt to notify the oncoming passenger train, the brakeman from the freight train ran ahead to deploy an explosive warning device called a torpedo on the track and wave a red flag signalling the steam train to stop. He did not get far, and the engineer of the passenger train did not see or hear the warning signals.

A precisely 8:00 am, the trains collided head on at a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) resulting in a sound described by a witness as “atomic”. The impact ruptured the tank car, causing the rapid spread of gasoline over the station, a garage, and three vehicles. The gas immediately ignited. The bodies of the Fraser family were found outside of their home by a high-wire fence; it remains speculation as to whether they were attempting to flee the inferno or were blown from their home at the time of the explosion. The body of steam engine Fireman Albert Villeneuve was found in the buckled cab of the steam locomotive. An additional 19 people were injured in the accident.

Living just 18 metres (59 feet) from the station was retired coal miner William Dickinson. He told the Edmonton Journal in 1959 that the blast was “like an earthquake” and shook him awake. Seeing smoke and fire everywhere, he ran to the phone to report the collision, but the phone line was dead – the crash had taken out the phone and power lines, stopping his electric clock at precisely 8:00 am.

THE AFTERMATH
The fire obliterated the station, a garage, and three vehicles. Historic accounts show the station was destroyed except for its fireproof safe and brick chimney. An official investigation followed the collision. Conflicting testimony was given by the flagman from the freight train and the engineer from the passenger train. The flagman was required to go two kilometres (2,000 yards) beyond the stopped freight train to flag and alert the crew of the passenger train.

The flagman testified he went forward approximately 220 metres (240 yards); however, no footprints were found in the fresh snow beyond 23 metres (75 feet). The engineer of the passenger train stated that he did not see the red flag or hear the track torpedoes. The engineer also testified that he failed to see the freight train on the main track until he was about seven metres (23 feet) away, at which time he placed the brakes into emergency.

Following the investigation, the entire crew of No.31, the freight train, was dismissed by the NAR for violating the operating rules by having the train on the main track and not flagging down the passenger train. The engineer of the passenger train, No. 2, was also dismissed for not obeying the rule that the train be prepared to stop at the junction. The conductor of train No. 2 was severely reprimanded for not checking the signals at the junction and “for failure to exercise proper supervision over his train”.

Courtesy of Shannyn Rus, UPI Telephoto ARP-111101-November 10/59

THE BRICKS
62 years have passed since this tragic historic day and what remains buried of the Carbondale station has begun to reveal itself brick by brick. Carbondale resident Shannyn Rus and her family began finding these “ACP” stamped bricks in 2019. The chimney bricks were made by Alberta Clay Products (ACP) which existed from 1909 to 1962 in southern Alberta, near Redcliff.

The Rus family collected 20 full size, intact red bricks from the crash site and have donated them to rest at the Alberta Railway Museum as part of a collection of rail history not to be forgotten or buried again. You can find a short documentary on the Carbondale Station here.

Alberta

Edmonton police use DNA phenotyping to find sex assault suspect

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By Angela Amato in Edmonton

Edmonton police say they are using DNA phenotyping, for the first time in its history, in trying to solve a sexual assault.

DNA phenotyping predicts physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence, and police use that information to narrow suspects and generate leads in criminal investigations.

Det. Colleen Maynes says the method is a last resort after all other investigative avenues have been exhausted.

“This was a vicious assault,” said Maynes, adding she doesn’t want to see the perpetrator act again.

A woman lost consciousness after she was violently sexually assaulted by a man who followed her from a bus stop in the central Spruce Avenue neighbourhood in March of 2019.

She sustained serious injuries and was found wearing only a shirt when it was -27 C.

“This survivor deserves justice,” said Maynes.

There were no witnesses, surveillance video, public tips or DNA matches in the case.

Detectives enlisted DNA technology company Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia to help in the investigation. The lab has provided DNA phenotyping to help with other files in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Most DNA testing in Canada goes through the RCMP’s lab. Maynes said this can take a long time, as the RCMP deals with cases across the country and doesn’t have the resources or technologies that other labs do.

“We are lacking with that technology here in Canada,” said Maynes.

Paula Armentrout with Parabon said that since 2018, its labs have helped solve 230 violent crimes in North America, although not all of them used DNA phenotyping.

DNA phenotyping is not exclusive to sexual assault cases. The analysis has also been used to find possible suspects in murder cases and to identify remains.

With a computer-generated snapshot in the Edmonton sex assault case, DNA phenotyping determined the suspect to be a Black man with dark brown to black hair and dark brown eyes who stands about five-foot-four.

Armentrout said the turnaround for this type of analysis is about 45 days after receiving a DNA sample.

Police said the suspect’s description may impact a marginalized community. After consulting with community stakeholders and considering the severity of the assault and the threat to public safety, police released the details with a computer-generated image.

Any leads generated from the image will require further investigative steps, said Maynes.

“It is by no means an immediate path to accusing a suspect,” she said. “What it does is potentially give us leads in a cold case, and we can follow up with DNA testing from there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

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Alberta

Former head of Alberta Human Rights Commission suing justice minister over dismissal

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By Bob Weber in Edmonton

The former head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission is suing the province’s justice minister for wrongful dismissal, claiming Tyler Shandro caved in to carefully orchestrated political pressure.

Collin May’s statement of claim alleges members and supporters of the Opposition New Democratic Party feared May would expose sexual harassment problems at the commission that occurred when they were in government.

“This made the plaintiff a threat, and he was subsequently targeted by political opponents weeks before he was scheduled to start his term as chief,” the document says.

New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir called the charges a distraction.

“Collin May published overtly racist and Islamophobic views,” he said in an email Tuesday.

“The UCP government belatedly held him accountable for that. Mr. May’s innuendo is merely an attempt to distract from his own behaviour.”

May, a Calgary lawyer, was hired as chief of the commission on May 25.

Questions about his appointment began almost immediately. Some criticized his lack of experience in human rights law and others pointed to a book review he wrote in 2009 in which he quoted statements saying Islam was a fundamentally violent religion.

That review drew concerns from the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Members of the NDP caucus also called for May’s resignation.

The statement of claim accuses NDP supporters of stockpiling May’s book review years ago, then carefully co-ordinating and managing the public outcry against him to engineer his removal.

“The NDP were clearly co-ordinated for the purpose of smearing the plaintiff’s character,” the document says.

It goes on to allege the New Democrats went after May because they were afraid he would renew sexual harassment allegations against two senior members of the commission who had been appointed by NDP leader and then-premier Rachel Notley.

“(May) learned that there was also a culture of pervasive sexual harassment within the NDP during Notley’s time as premier,” says the claim.

“Notley therefore could not afford to have the public learn that … her own appointees had also allowed for a culture of pervasive sexual harassment and bullying.”

The document says Shandro neither defended May nor emphasized that the commission is an arm’s length agency, which he has no direct control over. In fact, it alleges senior officials in Shandro’s office were so insistent on getting May to apologize for statements he says he didn’t make that May had to block their numbers on his cellphone.

As well, the lawsuit alleges May was forbidden from meeting with Muslim organizations by Muhammad Yaseen, Alberta’s associate minister of immigration and multiculturalism. It says May was told to wait to await ministerial direction, which never came.

“Minister Shandro’s office was heavily involved in facilitating the smear campaign against Collin May,” said May’s lawyer Kathryn Marshall in an interview.

The situation got so bad that May received threatening phone calls at his home. May’s law firm removed his phone number from its website and for four days in July, the lawsuit says, May and his partner were afraid to leave their Calgary home.

“The (commission) and the defendant did nothing to support (May) during this difficult time,” the lawsuit says.

It says that on Sept. 15, May got a letter telling him his job was over on a “without cause” basis.

A spokesman for Shandro declined to comment, saying the matter is before the courts.

Marshall said May had signed a five-year contract on the same basis as any other civil servant and was not given the basic rights he was due under Canadian law.

“It’s not about deflecting criticism or playing political games,” she said. “This is about getting my clients’ rights enforced.

“(The government) fired him and are now falsely alleging he resigned.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover the money May would have earned over the five-year term as well as damages to his reputation — about $2.1 million.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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