Monday, 23 December 2013

End of the Line: The 1857 Train Wreck at the Desjardins Canal Bridge – Don McIver

End of the Line: The 1857 Train Wreck at the Desjardins Canal Bridge – Don McIver

This is now the second of two books I’ve read set in my neighbourhood. This one and then John Terpstra’s book, Falling Into Place about the Iroquois Bar. (The cover of which also shows a view of the canal and the bridge from the harbour.)

Neat little slice of history about Ontario, Hamilton, and railways. Allan Napier MacNab and Dundurn are featured prominently. Railway disasters and political corruption aren’t a new thing. Unbelievable to read how MacNab, the politician, voted for tax money to be funnelled to MacNab, the business mogul. The conflict of interest almost beggars belief to read about today. And his railway concern had an absolutely shocking list of safety violations that to read about today, again leaves one agog. Shoddy construction, flagrant disregard for safety, political corruption - it’s quite a tale. 57 people died in the disaster, and it remained one of the worst train disasters in Canada for some time, and I believe it is still Hamilton’s worst single loss of life. And in one of those twists of fate, one of the people killed in the disaster was Samuel Zimmerman, the corner cutting railway contractor, widely believed to be the richest man in Canada at that time. The accident was caused by a broken axle on the engine, and to a degree the bridge. The engineering involved in having a massive, heavy locomotive and freight cars move at speed over a bridge was still iffy at the time. They were making it up as they went along. 

Interesting to read also how rapidly Hamilton, as well as railways grew. At the time of the disaster, railways in any form were about thirty years old. And Hamilton 30 years before had been at best a few scattered log cabins, the start of a town.

One to recommend to anyone with an interest in local (if you’re local to me that is) history and railway history. Or if you’re one of those morbid weirdos with an interest in disasters.

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