Canada’s Worst Avalanche Disaster

01 Feb

The 1910 Rogers Pass Avalanche killed 58 men clearing a railroad line near the summit of Rogers Pass across the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia on March 4, 1910. It is Canada’s worst avalanche disaster.

Photo of workers recovering bodies from the avalanche

Workers recover bodies and clear the tracks on March 5, 1910.

The winter of 1909–1910 provided conditions particularly conducive to avalanches; many slides experienced during January and February. On March 1, 96 people were killed further south into the Wellington avalanche in Washington State.

Three days later, on the evening of March 4, work crews were dispatched to clear a big slide which had fallen from Cheops Mountain, and buried the tracks just south of Shed 17. The crew consisted of a locomotive-driven rotary snowplow and 59 men. Time was critical as westbound CPR Train Number 97 was just entering the Rocky Mountains, bound for Vancouver.

Half an hour before midnight as the track was nearly clear, an unexpected avalanche swept down the opposite side of the track to the first fall. Around 400 metres of track were buried. The 91-ton locomotive and plow were hurled 15 metres to land upside-down. The wooden cars behind the locomotive were crushed and all but one of the workmen were instantly buried into the deep snow.

The only survivor was Billy Lachance, the locomotive fireman, who had been knocked over by the wind accompanying the fall but otherwise remained unscathed.

When news of the disaster reached nearby Revelstoke, a relief train consisting of 200 railmen, physicians and nurses was sent to the scene. They found no casualties to take care of; it became a mission to clear the tracks and recover the bodies beneath 10 metres of snow. Several of the dead were found standing upright, frozen in place. Among the dead were 32 Japanese workers.

The disaster was not the first to befall the pass; in all over 200 people had been killed by avalanches there since the line was opened 26 years before. The CPR finally accepted defeat and in 1913 began boring the five-mile long Connaught Tunnel through Mount Macdonald, at the time Canada’s longest tunnel, so bypassing the hazard of Rogers Pass. It was opened on December 13, 1916, and the railway abandoned the pass.

To read a wonderfully written article, with photos and a map, I suggest clicking your way to the Weather Doctor.

Stay warm and safe everyone!


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20 responses to “Canada’s Worst Avalanche Disaster

  1. Gypsy Bev

    February 8, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks for the history on the reason for Connaught Tunnel. Don’t even want ot think what it would be like to see an avalanche headed your way. Awful!

    • tkmorin

      February 9, 2015 at 8:58 am

      You’re more than welcome, Bev. And i hope to never find out either.

  2. L. Marie

    February 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

    How horribly sad. I also agree with qcb101 in wondering if the families ever heard what happened. So sad.

  3. qcb101

    February 2, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Amazing! Back then there wasn’t international mail like there is today. It makes me wonder if the Japanese families in Japan ever found out why their brothers/sons/fathers never came home and if it remained a mystery to them forever (it’s not like the rescuers would know who to contact or how). Intriguing (and sad).

    • tkmorin

      February 2, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      I often make comments about an event today and compare with the same event if it happened today with the internet, global news sometimes as it happens, even telephones (or cell phones)! And that doesn’t include social media. I like you’re way of thinking! 🙂

  4. avwalters

    February 2, 2015 at 2:26 am

    How many were killed, boring the tunnel?

    • tkmorin

      February 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Good question. I could not find any mention of anyone killed there. If you (or anyone else) find any mention to the contrary, i would like to know.

  5. hairballexpress

    February 1, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Dude- another historical event I never heard before! Thanks furiend!😺

    • tkmorin

      February 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

      You are so welcome! I hope you are staying inside, all safe and warm! 🙂

      • hairballexpress

        February 2, 2015 at 11:44 am

        I am! Snuggled up on my humans’ king sized bed. Sure hope they can sleep on that cold, hard floor…

        • tkmorin

          February 2, 2015 at 2:39 pm

          Thanks for the smile, Shrimp!! 🙂

  6. First Night Design

    February 1, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Reblogged this on First Night History.

  7. The Canadian Cats

    February 1, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    As always a real good read. Of course I knew about the BIG avalanche in our province but it is interesting to get a little more detail.


    • tkmorin

      February 1, 2015 at 6:07 pm

      Stay warm! 🙂

  8. Deb

    February 1, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    We drive through that area often and it is still very prone to avalanches and is often closed for avalanche control. At the summit of the Rogers Pass you can see the guns they use for avalanche control and they used to have information on it in the interpretive center.

    • tkmorin

      February 1, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      Wow, Deb. I’d be scared driving near there. However, thank you for the comment as i’m not likely to go by there myself. 🙂

      • Deb

        February 1, 2015 at 8:24 pm

        It’s an amazing drive, just dicey in winter. If you ever get the chance check it out.

        • tkmorin

          February 1, 2015 at 8:36 pm

          I have to start expanding my bucket list! LOL

  9. onepageeveryday.

    February 1, 2015 at 8:10 am

    (Check the date in the caption of your photo)

    • tkmorin

      February 1, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Thank you so much for pointing this out. It’s appreciated. 🙂


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