This article is submitted by members of the Alberta Railway Museum
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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
Reducing funding for RCMP on the table for Saskatchewan amid firearm buyback debate
REGINA — Saskatchewan says it would consider reducing its funding for the RCMP if the force was to help the federal government with its proposed firearms buyback program.
Public Safety Minister Christine Tell says all options are on the table, signalling the province will not help Ottawa collect guns it has banned.
“We as a province fund the RCMP to a tune of 70 per cent, so it could even get more interesting,” Tell said Thursday.
The Saskatchewan Party government said it is pushing back to protect law-abiding firearms owners from what it views as federal intrusion on its provincial autonomy.
Under Ottawa’s proposed firearms buyback program, it would be mandatory for people to have their assault-style firearms rendered inoperable or have them discarded. That could also include centrefire semi-automatic rifles or shotguns designed to accept a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.
In response, Saskatchewan has introduced its own firearms act to forbid municipalities and police services from receiving federal money to help confiscate firearms.
The proposed law says a municipality, police service or board would have to get written approval from the province’s public safety minister before agreeing to support the federal buyback program.
It also states that Saskatchewan’s chief firearms officer would enforce which federal agent can or cannot confiscate firearms in the province.
“These legal firearm owners are not the ones committing the crimes,” Tell said.
The legislation was tabled Thursday, months after Tell wrote a letter to Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the head of Saskatchewan’s RCMP. It stated that the province would not support the Mounties using provincially funded resources to help confiscate firearms.
Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick have sent similar letters to their RCMP forces. They have joined Saskatchewan in asking Ottawa to not use up “scarce RCMP and municipal resources” for its buyback program.
In October, Blackmore said Mounties are service providers, not decision-makers, and any decisions over the buyback program are between the federal and provincial governments.
“As the service provider, we would be the individuals that get our information from them,” Blackmore told The Canadian Press.
That includes if additional resources would be needed by RCMP once the buyback program rolls out.
“It would depend on the level of expectation, and what that looks like, and what the involvement is if there are additional resources,” Blackmore said.
The specific role of the RCMP and the details surrounding the buyback program have not been determined.
On Friday, the Saskatchewan RCMP said it will continue to prioritize front-line services and the safety of communities is its highest priority.
The Saskatchewan Firearms Act also calls for helping firearm owners get fair market value for guns collected through the buyback program and would require all seized firearms to go through forensic and ballistic testing.
The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, which advocates for hunters and the protection of the province’s hunting heritage, praised the proposed act, saying it would mitigate the “draconian” federal legislation.
There are approximately 115,000 licensed firearms owners in Saskatchewan, 75,000 of whom may be penalized under the federal government’s policy. That’s about 10 per cent of Saskatchewan’s adult population, the province said.
Saskatchewan’s NDP Opposition has stood united with the government to denounce the program.
“It does not strike the right balance for Saskatchewan,” justice critic Nicole Sarauer said last week in the legislature.
“These amendments are overbroad and capture rifles that have legitimate uses for both hunters and producers in Saskatchewan.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2022.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press
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