Remembering the Almonte train disaster

This morning I noticed an article by Ottawa journalist Michael Harris entitled “Past keeps on rolling.” It is about the Almonte, Ontario train disaster that happened on December 27th, 1942 at 8:43pm.

You would think that not even being three years old, I wouldn’t remember a thing. But, when I read the article, it all came back to me in a flash — like watching a movie in my head. 

My father was overseas and my mother and I had gone to spend Christmas with relatives in Almonte. From what my mother told me later, we had been waiting at the station, in the cold, for a couple of hours when the train finally came. Mom didn’t like line ups so we simply waited to board.

What I remember is that she was holding my hand and we were just about to board the very last standing car when she turned her head and saw the moving train coming towards us — it’s bright light shining in the darkness. She screamed, grabbed me and we quickly moved back (as did a lot of other people) against the station building. What I most remember, however, is the unbelievable noise of the crash as the moving train pushed through the middle of the last several cars, with bodies and people being thrown everywhere.

I then remember sitting on a train platform bench as I watched my mother helped the injured. She told me later her aunt eventually came and picked me up and she worked late into the night helping in whatever way she could.

My mother and I talked about the incident only a few times over the years. And, being so young, I simply forgot about it. Until this morning. When I read the article, I clearly started to remember certain things. What this means is that small children DO store traumatic memories, even if they are not aware of them being there, memories that can be triggered. Intellectually, I knew that fact since I had been a memory specialist when I had my own special education practice prior to retirement.

However, of course, it’s different when it’s yourself doing the remembering. Interestingly, I have never felt comfortable around trains. Once I board I can relax but standing beside them makes me very nervous. Clearly, I now know the reason why.

The title of the Harris’ piece, the “past keeps on rolling” is true in more ways than one.

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6 thoughts on “Remembering the Almonte train disaster

  1. My grandfather, who was from Almonte and on leave from the army, was actually on one of the trains that got hit; he and his mother, right before the crash, went to the back of the train in order to find her hat. If they hadn’t done that, they would have been right where the two trains collided – and yours truly probably wouldn’t be around to say this. 😛

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  2. My grandfather, who was from Almonte and on leave from the army, was actually on one of the trains that got hit; he and his mother, right before the crash, went to the back of the train in order to find her hat. If they hadn’t done that, they would have been right where the two trains collided – and yours truly probably wouldn’t be around to say this. 😛

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  3. Thanks for sharing Frank.

    Obviously your grandfather and his mother were at the back of the approaching train because I don’t imagine anyone in the last car of the stationary train survived.

    Remember, the engines were very hot and the steam and fire would have been terrible, let alone the impact. The approaching train’s engine and first few cars literally plowed through the stationary train’s last few cars — at least that is my memory of the event. I will have to read Michael Harris’ book to get the exact details.

    If my mother and I had boarded, I wouldn’t be here either. Fate I suppose.

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  4. Thanks for sharing Frank.

    Obviously your grandfather and his mother were at the back of the approaching train because I don’t imagine anyone in the last car of the stationary train survived.

    Remember, the engines were very hot and the steam and fire would have been terrible, let alone the impact. The approaching train’s engine and first few cars literally plowed through the stationary train’s last few cars — at least that is my memory of the event. I will have to read Michael Harris’ book to get the exact details.

    If my mother and I had boarded, I wouldn’t be here either. Fate I suppose.

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  5. I am just sitting here reading this, and remembering my late grandfather who was a CNR inspector in those days, and i recall him telling us about the crash..

    One thing i remember him saying was that in the cleanup, a few days later, a worker found a locomotive wheel in a field 1500 feet from the accident site, so you can imagine the kinetic energy expended when these two trains collided

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  6. I am just sitting here reading this, and remembering my late grandfather who was a CNR inspector in those days, and i recall him telling us about the crash..

    One thing i remember him saying was that in the cleanup, a few days later, a worker found a locomotive wheel in a field 1500 feet from the accident site, so you can imagine the kinetic energy expended when these two trains collided

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