Category Archives: February

Canada’s Worst Avalanche Disaster

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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This week in Canadian History – February Week 1

Francois de Laval

Francois de Laval

You know the expression, “it would take an earthquake to move him,” to describe someone who is stubborn? Well, it took an earthquake on February 5, 1663 to move people to stop selling liquor to the Natives … even then the effect didn’t last very long.

One of the worst problems in early Canada was caused by people who plied the natives with liquor and then stole their furs. Even in the late 1800’s, unscrupulous traders persuaded many Indians and Metis in western Canada, to give up their allotments of land in exchange for bottles of whiskey.

Francois de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec, waged a continual battle against the liquor trade. When his own appeals did not have an effect, he urged King Louis XIV and his minister, Colbert, to take action. There was much discussion, but no effective action was taken. Finally Bishop Laval decreed that people selling liquor to the Natives would be excommunicated from the Church. Even this was unsuccessful, and Laval persuaded Governor d’Avaugour to impose the death penalty on people who were guilty!

People were hanged until the day a woman was caught. She was a widow with a family to support, and Father Lalemont appealed to Governor d’Avaugour for clemency. The Governor, who did not want to impose the death penalty in the first place, took this opportunity to end it. He said, “Since this is not a crime for this woman, it shall not be a crime for anybody.”

On the night of February 5, 1663 there was an earthquake. It was so severe that great fissures were opened in the snow; streams were diverted from their courses; new waterfalls appeared; homes rocked, and church bells rang widely.

People were terrified. They flocked into the churches, believing that the world was coming to an end. Many of those guilty of selling liquor to the Natives felt that they were being punished for their sins and resolved to “go straight.”

The city of Laval, in southern Quebec, is named in honour of Bishop Francois de Laval.


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Like Looking Through the Wrong End of a Telescope!

English: Northwest Arm, Halifax Nova Scotia, 7...

English: Northwest Arm, Halifax Nova Scotia, 7am on my balcony on Quinpool Rd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


When the Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia in 1755, “planters” from New England were brought in to take their place.  As a result, Nova Scotia opened the first Parliament in what is now Canada on October 2, 1758.

Governor Cornwallis,the builder of Halifax, had been given instructions to “summon and call general assemblies of the Freeholders and Planters according to the usage of the rest of our colonies  and plantations in America”, but had done nothing about it.  He was succeeded by a tough soldier, Colonel Lawrence, who might also have done nothing except that his hand was forced by the settlers from the American colonies.  They were accustomed to self-government and demanded it for Nova Scotia.

On  February 7, 1758, Governor Lawrence and his council passed resolutions providing for the election of sixteen members for the province at large, with four from Halifax and two from Lunenburg.  As soon as any community had a population of fifty, it could elect two members.  Nobody could complain about lack of representation when there was a Member of Parliament for every twenty-five people!

The first Parliament in Canada met in the Court House at the corner of Argyle and Buckingham Streets in Halifax on October 2, 1758.  It remained in session until April 11, 1759, with breaks for the usual holidays.  The members voted to serve without pay.  The total cost of the first session was £250, of which £100 went to the clerk.

The Church of England was formally established, but Protestant dissenters were allowed freedom of worship and conscience.  The same privileges were denied “members of the popish religion.”  the British criminal code was adopted, including penalties of the stocks pillory, flogging, branding, cutting off ears and hanging.  As late as 1816, a man was sentenced to have his ears cut off.  For instance, the use of profane language was a criminal offence.

Nova Scotia’s Parliament was conducted with great ceremony.  Charles Dickens, who visited Halifax in 1840, said it was like looking at the British Parliament through the wrong end of a telescope!

October 2, 1758, was commemorated by the Canadian Club of Halifax which erected a memorial tower along the picturesque Northwest Arm of the city.


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So, How Did Toronto Come To Be?

God save our lord the king

God save our lord the king (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Toronto is Canada‘s second largest city, it is difficult to believe that it was once possible to catch Atlantic salmon in the Don and Humber Rivers flowing through it, or to shoot waterfowl on the bay between the city and its protecting island.  Yet it was so on July 30, 1793, when John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada began clearing the site for the capital.

When Simcoe was appointed in 1791, the capital was at Newark, now Niagara.  It was protected by Fort Niagara on the American side of the river, still held by the British as insurance that the United States would carry out the terms of the peace treaty.  Detroit was also held by Britain for the same reason.

Simcoe felt sure that there would be another war between Britain and the United States and was anxious to find a new site for the capital because the present site was too close to the border.  In February 1793, he began a memorable tour of the country he governed, travelling by sleigh over the backwood trails.  When Simcoe stopped for the night he always had the members of the company sing “God Save the King.”  His first stop, after three days, was at a Mohawk village on the Grand River, where he attended church with Chief Brant.  He then continued to Detroit.

Although his first choice for the new capital was the site of London, he had to settle for the Toronto Bay area because it provided immediate transportation facilities.  On May 4, he heard that Britain and France were at war, and feeling certain that the Americans would side with France, he decided to move as quickly as possible.

The building of what is now Toronto began on July 30.  While it was under construction, Simcoe and his family lived in a huge tent that had belonged to Captain Cook who, with Simcoe’s father, had served with Wolfe in the campaign to capture Quebec in 1759.  Simcoe called the new capital “York” in honour of the Duke of York’s victories in Europe.

To learn more about today’s post, I have a few recommendations. Such as, the Jarvis Collegiate Toronto, and then Rick Bebout’s Website. Another interesting page can be found at Debbie’s Place.


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Welcome British Columbia!

English: Joseph Trutch, June 1870. Photo by Wi...

Joseph Trutch, June 1870. Photo by William James Topley. Online from Library and Archives Canada PA-025343 Category:British Columbia public domain photographs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Canada from sea unto sea became a reality on July 20, 1871, when British Columbia entered Confederation.   The extension was not achieved easily and Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland were yet to come.  Alberta and Saskatchewan were in Confederation, but as Northwest Territories, they did not become separate provinces until 1905.

Between 1867 and 1871, there was a great deal of support in British Columbia for a movement to join the United States.  Nevertheless, in May 1870, three delegates left Victoria for Ottawa to discuss terms for joining Canada.  One of them was Dr. J. S. Helmcken who had been the leader of the movement for joining the United States!  He began to change his mind when the delegates were travelling through the United States to Ottawa by the Union Pacific Railway.  He saw how that railway had been put through the Sierra Mountains and realized that it might be possible to build a railway through the Rockies.  Surveyor Pallister disagreed.

When the delegates arrived in Ottawa, they were received by Sir George Etienne Cartier, because Sir John A. Macdonald was ill.  The negotiations were easy.  Some of the British Columbia delegates thought they might have to settle for a wagon road through the mountains, but Canada promised to begin building a transcontinental railway within two years and to have it completed within ten.  Canada also agreed to take over British Columbia’s debt.  The province would have the same form of government as the others and send three senators and six M.P.’s to Ottawa.

In recent years there has been a good deal of co-operation between British Columbia and Quebec.  After completing the Columbia river Power Agreement, the Government of British Columbia under Premier W.A.C. Bennett lent Quebec $100 million, saving the province $750,000 which would have been paid in legal fees and brokers’ commissions if the money had been raised through the usual channels.

This friendship may stem, in part, from Joseph Trutch of British Columbia said: “We must all remember in British Columbia that to Sir George Cartier and his followers in Lower Canada, we owe the position we are now in — and especially the Canadian Pacific Railway.”

There are many places to visit (virtually and physically) and books to read about this; but let me suggest a few sites. There’s Library and Archives Canada, and then Canadian History Project, as well as a new site I just found, at Multicultural History Society of Ontario. And finally, About Online for an amazing article written by Susan Munroe.


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Canadian Heir of King Richard III, Part 2

English: King Richard III and his family in th...

King Richard III and his family in the contemporary Rous Roll in the Heralds’ College. Left to right: Anne Neville, Queen of King Richard 3rd; King Richard 3rd; Edward, Prince of Wales, their son. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ll recall, on February 4, 2013, I posted news about how King Richard III‘s remains had been found.  I also wrote about how Canadian-born cabinet-maker Michael Isben might be an heir to the monarch.

Well, it’s official:  DNA matched positive!  He is the proud 17th great-grandson of the King!

That’s not all he learned that fateful day.  He learned of another descendant – a relative he hadn’t known about.  The “new” cousin would rather remain anonymous.

To read my first post about this, click HERE!

To read about how he felt when he visited the fragile King, go to This Is Leicestershire.


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I Told You it Would Happen …

English: Marie Guyart Français : Marie de l'In...

Marie de l’Incarnation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Indian girl heard a voice that predicted a great earthquake would happen in three days, and at five in the afternoon.  This girl told a nun, Mère Marie de l’Incarnation.  This was three days before the great Charlevoix, Quebec earthquake of 1663!

Update: directly from Heritage Toronto:

The Savages, as well as the French, had had presentiments of this fearful Earthquake. A young Algonquin girl, between Sixteen and seventeen years of age, named Catherine, – who has always lived a very innocent life; and who, indeed, owing to her extraordinary trust in the Cross of the Son of God, has been cured, as if by a miracle, of an illness from which she had been suffering for an entire Winter, without any hopes of recovery, – deposed with all sincerity that, on the night preceding the Earthquake, she saw herself with two other girls of her age and Nation mounting a great Stairway. At its top [22] was seen a beautiful Church, where the Blessed Virgin appeared with her Son, predicting to them that the earth would soon be shaken, trees would strike against one another, and rocks would be shattered, to the general consternation of all the people.

There are sites that discuss this event.  The first place I suggest is Wikipedia, and Natural Resources Canada, and then U.S. Geological Survey, and lastly, I highly suggest clicking your way to Heritage Toronto.


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