Tag Archives: 1916

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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Expressions of Regret

The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 19...

The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 1916 a second time due to poor design work and materials. The bridge, which was conceived to be one of the most advanced in the world, had already collapsed under similar circumstances in 1907. Eighty-five workers perished in that tragedy prompting a Dominion Royal Commission to investigate the catastrophic failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People sailing to Canada for the first time are always thrilled to pass under the Quebec Bridge.  When completed in September 1917, it was the biggest bridge in the world, although it no longer holds that distinction.  The plan to build a bridge across the St. Lawrence, eight miles above Quebec, was first proposed in 1853.  Before it was completed in 1917, the Quebec Bridge had fallen down twice, with the loss of seventy-three lives.

The original plan would have cost $3 million, but no engineer would undertake its construction.  In 1882, the idea was revised when the famous Firth of Fourth bridge was built in Scotland.  Sir James Brunless, who built the Firth bridge, was brought over to Canada as a consultant, but work progressed slowly.  Finally the job was entrusted to a New York firm.

On completion day, August 29, 1907, with thousands watching, the southern cantilever suddenly collapsed.  The crash killed sixty workmen and injured eleven others, as tons of twisted steel sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence.  There was a dramatic sight as a priest administered the last rites to a man caught inside a girder.  There were no devices capable of cutting metal quickly enough in those days, and he drowned as the water rose inside the girder.

The Laurier government then stepped in and put the Department of Railways in charge.  The contract was awarded to the St. Lawrence Bridge Company with two Canadian steel companies supplying the materials.  On September 11, 1916, another large crowd assembled to see the centre span raised into place.  It was floated down the St. Lawrence on six steel barges.  Thousands watched from the shores or from small boats in the river.  There was great cheering and waving of handkerchiefs as the giant cranes began to lift the span from the barges.  As it rose to about 4.5 meters (15 feet) above the water, there was a crack like a rifle-shot and the span plunged into the river.  Thirteen men were killed.

The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint...

The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint Lawrence River, in Quebec City, Canada. Since its opening in 1919, it is the longest cantilever bridge span in the world, at 549 m. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another centre span was built and floated down the river.  The huge cranes began lifting it on September 15, 1917 and it was in its place by September 20.  The Quebec Bridge had finally been completed.

I really only have one site to suggest about the Quebec Bridge disasters. The Engineers Aspect blog. Great article there!


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The Summer That Never Was

English: Volcanic Explosivity Index volume graph

English: Volcanic Explosivity Index volume graph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Have you noticed the weather lately?  How strange it can get? Today, here in Ottawa (Ontario), it is a hot and humid day at 32° C (89° F).  Imagine how “jealous” (no, not really) I was to come across today’s trivia.

On August 21, 1816, Quebec City (Quebec) 30 cm (12 inches) of snow was reported.  This led to loss of crops (because of frost), malnutrition, starvation, and increased mortality, most by an epidemic.

But this was not an isolated incident  in Canada.  It was worldwide!  Severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease.  It is also known as “The Year Without a Summer”, “Poverty Year“, “Year There Was No Summer”, and “Eighteen Hundred” and “Froze to Death.”

Why?  How could this happen?

It is now generally believed that the aberrations occurred because of the April 5–15, 1815, volcanic Mount Tambora eruption in Indonesia.  The eruption had a Volcanic Explosivity Index ranking of 7, a super-colossal event that ejected immense amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere.

Other large volcanic eruptions around this time were:
1812, La Soufrière on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean
1812, Awu in the Sangihe Islands, Indonesia
1813, Suwanosejima in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan
1814, Mayon in the Philippines

These eruptions had already built up a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As is common after a massive volcanic eruption, temperatures fell worldwide because less sunlight passed through the atmosphere.

You can access Michael Sean Munger‘s 152-page thesis “1816: The Mighty Operations of Nature.” Also, there is an excerpt, covering this subject, of the book Crazy Canadian Trivia by Pat Hancock (I recommend this book, by the way!). I also suggest going to for an interesting article by Jesse Ferrell.

Below is Darkness, a poem by Lord Byron, about this:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts

Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires–and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings–the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire–but hour by hour
They fell and faded–and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash–and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,

And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless–they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought–and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails–men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead

Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress–he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted upTheir eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects–saw, and shriek’d, and died–
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless–
A lump of death–a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge–
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them–She was the Universe.


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Canada’s 100 Days

The beginning of the end of “the war to end wars” was on August 8, 1918.  It is known in history now as “the 100 Days of the Canadian Army.”  From the enemy’s point of view, August 8, 1918, was “the black day of the German army,” a phrase used by General Erich Ludendorff.

Erich Ludendorff, German general.

Erich Ludendorff, German general. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For three weary years, the Allies and the Germans had opposed each other in muddy trenches, sometimes only 50 yards (45.72 yards Meters) apart, along a front of 300 miles (482 km) from the sea coast to the frontier of Switzerland.  Trench warfare ended in March 1918, when the Germans broke through at Amiens, inflicting heavy losses on the British.  They nearly got through to Paris, but could not keep up the pace.

The Canadians had been held in reserve until August 8, and now, with the Australians, they were used in a move that fooled the enemy.  A small part of the Canadian and Australian armies was sent to Flanders as a decoy.  Their main forces were moved to Amiens only a few hours before zero hour.

The decoy worked.  When the Canadians and Australians began their attack on Amiens, supported by nearly 500 tanks, they found that the Germans had left only six reduced divisions to defend the city.  Tanks were comparatively new in warfare, having been used for the first time in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

A mist helped to hide the attacking Canadians and Australians at Amiens, and with firm ground they were able to move forward 8 miles on a front which was 15 miles (24 km) wide.  The tide of battle had been turned, although there was a great deal of hard fighting ahead.  By October, the Canadians had lost 16,000 men in the drive, but, helped by four British Divisions, they destroyed nearly fifty German divisions, one-quarter of the German force on the Western Front.

To learn more about the 100 Days of Canada, I suggest Awaken the Dream, and then I suggest an interesting site, the LibriVox where you can download and listen to volunteer readers recite a book on this subject! Then I would suggest the Canadian Great War Project.


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It May Have Cost Thousands of Lives

English: Inside the Ross Rifle Factory, Quebec...

Inside the Ross Rifle Factory, Quebec City, ca. 1900-1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Lee-Enfield rifle, No.4
Lee-Enfield rifle, No.4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the greatest controversies in Canada was brought about by national pride, and may have cost thousands of lives.  It was over the Ross rifle, used until August 1916 by Canadian troops in World War I.

The problem began several years before the war.  The government tried to order British Lee-Enfield rifles for the Canadian forces, but Britain had priority on them, and would not release the quantity required.  In 1901 tests were begun on a rifle designed by Sir Charles Ross and continued until after the beginning of war in 1914.  It became a matter of pride that Canadians would have rifles so good that Britain would come begging for them.

The Ross rifle compared well with the Lee-Enfield in target shooting but jammed when it became hot.  It was redesigned and special Canadian ammunition was made for it but it still jammed.  Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, was a keen amateur marksman, and the lightweight Ross rifle appealed to him.  He did not seem to see its faults, and Ross rifles were issued to Canadian soldiers fighting in World War I.   They cost up to $18 each, at least 25 per cent more than Lee-Enfields, and by this time had been altered so much that they were seven inches longer and a pound heavier than the British rifle.

The Canadian soldiers themselves got rid of the Ross rifle.  During the battle of Ypres, nearly 1,500 threw them away and picked up Lee-Enfields lying beside dead British troops.  Their own rifles had jammed in battle as tests had always shown they would.

British General Alderson made repeated representations to Sir Sam Hughes about the loss of confidence in the Ross rifle.  Sir Sam did nothing.  Finally, in desperation, General Alderson wrote to the Governor-General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught.

The Ottawa Citizen received permission to print this letter which appeared on the front page of the Citizen, May 16, 1916.  It produced the desired reaction: Sir Robert Borden cabled Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, asking him to have a decisive test made.

On May 28, 1916, Haig advised the Canadian Government to abandon the Ross rifle “without delay,” and his recommendation was accepted.

If you would like to read some more about this, I would suggest National Library of New Zealand for a newspaper article; then the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum.


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Ontario Is All Wet!

Prohibition Propoganda Prohibition Propoganda (Photo credit: andymangold)

On December 4, 1902, Ontario voted to bring prohibition into law, under the Ontario Liquor Referendum Act. It resulted in a vote of 199,749 for and 103,542 against.

Though the referendum passed, a majority of all peoples did not agree in the 1898 election, so the official  prohibition did not pass until 1916.

In 1896, the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada had previously ruled that no province can hold the authority to ban alcohol. Ummm, that was part I. Part II says that the Liquor Act would grant Ontario to declare prohibition to the extent of sales of alcohol in bars and retail establishments, and restrictions on sales in restaurants. Part III needed the majority of votes on the subject, and that criteria was not met.

Prince Edward Island was the first province to pass prohibition in 1900. Ontario and Alberta passed it 1916. The temperance movement did not reach its height until the 1920’s. Quebec was the last province to pass it in 1919, but it was quickly repealed due to public pressure.

The prohibition movement stated when people wanted to close drinking establishments, what they believed to be the cause of societal ills and misery. The main organization responsible for the outcry was the Alliance for the Total Suppression of Liquor Traffic. They believed that if the country was dry, there would be less poverty, crime, disease and domestic violence.

Many legislative acts were passed to control alcohol sales, but not without problems. For instance, doctors prescribed “medicinal pints” and the Jewish community and Catholics used alcohol in rituals.

At any rate, prohibition had succeeded mainly because of WWI, the thought being that it it would be a good thing for the soldiers were to return to a dry country. Also it would benefit the war effort because it would prevent waste and inefficiency. And so following the election of 1917, the federal government passed prohibition in an Order-in-Council on April 1, 1918. Prohibition was official when the War Measures Act was enacted in 1918.

If you’d like to read more about this time, and I highly recommend it, I suggest the following sites:

“Prohibition and the Scandal of 1926” on my other site, (

Ontario Prohibition Referendum 1902 at World News Network (

Temperance Movement at the Canadian Encyclopedia Online (


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New Queen’s Ear

English: Crowd gathered outside old City Hall,...

 Crowd gathered outside old City during the Winnipeg General Strike. Visible on the left are the Union Bank of Canada building and Leland Hotel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A British suffragette handbill produced during...


On November 11, 1916, the Duke of Devonshire became Governor-General of Canada.


During his time in office, the Canadian government introduced conscription; the women’s suffrage movement grew in strength, and as a result, women were given the right to vote; and there was also the great Winnipeg General Strike.


Because of his experience as an agricultural land owner in England, he had a keen interest in agricultural issues in Canada. The Duke of Devonshire Trophy for the Ottawa Horticultural Society was established in 1921. Another great achievement was to set up of experimental farms, including the Government of Canada’s major experimental farm in Ottawa, Ontario.



For more information about Victor Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, you can start at The Canadian Encyclopedia Online.


There’s also the Parliament of Canada’s Heraldic Symbols page that might be of interest.



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