Rail Crossing was Tragedy Waiting to Happen

Krystine Therriault - Seaway News
Rail Crossing was Tragedy Waiting to Happen

A federal government agency’s bureaucratic foot dragging set the stage for Cornwall’s worst fatal accident in 24 years when a car carrying four teen-agers on Nov. 8, 1963 was broad sided by a fast-moving freight train.

The station wagon carrying the four – ages 18, 16, 15 and 14 – was struck at the rail crossing on Brookdale Avenue just north of Tollgate Road.

At the time, the gravel-covered road was a connecting link to a just completed section of Highway 401. The crossing had neither gates nor flashing lights. Just a rail crossing sign.

Months earlier the city had begged the federal agency in charge of rail crossing safety to make the crossing safer. The appeal fell on deaf ears as the agency talked about a priority list. The city also expressed concern about the unguarded level crossing on McConnell Avenue.

Two of the victims were thrown out of the vehicle while the driver and passenger were dragged in the twisted vehicle across the Tollgate Road crossing before coming to a stop a hundred feet west of the Pitt Street overpass.

The male passenger thrown from the vehicle died in Montreal hospital the following day. The others were killed instantly.

The night of Nov. 8 was overcast with light drizzle. Police believe the weather conditions played a role in the driver misjudging the fast-moving freight referred to as the highballer express.

Two days after the tragedy, the federal Board of Transport Commission in a knee-jerk reaction installed make-shift amber flashing lights at the crossing. This was followed months later by flashing signals and crossing gates. Years later the overpass was constructed.

While Mayor Nick Kaneb called the unprotected crossing a “deplorable situation,” in the wake of the tragedy Ald. Gerald Parisien was more blunt. He said city council was guilty of “not rocking the boat hard enough” when it came to a demand for a crossing gate.

A coroner’s inquest jury – made up of five citizens (Jock Dalbec, Clarence Petepiece, Albert Doyon, Melvin Hollister and J.A. Lusignan) – laid the blame squarely on the lack of any safety measure at the crossing on a road that connected the city to Highway 401.

Sadly, it took a tragedy that snuffed out four young lives for the power brokers to move on a crossing waiting for a tragedy to happen.

The previous worst fatal accident in the city was in 1939 when four people were killed – two of them members of the Maxville Millionaires hockey club – when the car they were in crashed through a Roosevelt Bridge barrier.


A Lochiel farm wife broke the proverbial glass ceiling in the 1963 United Counties municipal elections.

Enid MacDonald was elected deputy reeve of Lochiel Township, collecting more votes than her two male rivals combined, and United Counties council had its first female council member.

(Counties council is made up of reeves and deputy reeves).

Of MacDonald’s historic victory, The Standard-Freeholder’s Paul Cragg wrote: “Her election is a big step in a society where a woman’s place is said to be in the home.”

MacDonald and her husband, Archibald, operated a 300-acre dairy farm.

Her niece, Elaine MacDonald, is a veteran Cornwall city councillor.

ALSO IN 1963 – A national consumer survey of 78 municipalities showed that Cornwall had the highest smoking rates in the country. While the national average for men was 55% and for women 47%, Cornwall’s rates were 82% for men and 64% for women. Cornwall also had the highest consumption of vitamins and baby soap. … Ann McAllister was valedictorian at the Osnabruck-Rothwell District High School graduation ceremony. James Bancroft received the top male athlete award. … Fire destroyed the Choqette Hockey Stick factory in Alexandria. … Teen heartthrob and recording artist Bobby Curtola performed at St. Columban’s Hall. Admission was $1.25. … President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22. Days later his accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas police department.

SPORTS STUFF CIRCA 1963 – Jack Coleman scored his second goal of the game with 19 seconds left in regulation time to give Lancaster Dodgers a 4-3 win over Hull Volants in a St. Lawrence Senior Hockey League game. Dick Ledoux and Gilles Joanette had the other Lancaster goals. … Ken Duffy and Guy St. Jean each scored a pair of goals to give Cornwall Gordon Refrigeration Royals a 6-3 win over Brockville Braves in an Ottawa and District Junior Hockey League game. Pete Nazar and Nick Deschamps also scored.

THIS AND THAT Here is another reason why some people shouldn’t be handed a microphone. At a rally opposing the Conservative’s controversial Bill 23 that delivers green spaces to developers on a silver platter, the master of ceremonies in a grand display of hyperbolic gum chomping described a freshly-minted city councillor as the next mayor of Cornwall. This three days before the councillor’s first ever council meeting and four years before the next municipal election. … Please. Say it isn’t going to happen. A well-connected Toronto columnist believes the federal Liberals, hoping to get the jump on a looming recession, will break from their pact with the NDP and send Canadians to the polls in the spring. Meanwhile, with a war chest filled with campaign dollars and a fresh leader, the Conservatives are saying “Bring it on!” … Looking for a nifty stocking stuffer? How about tickets for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Tournament Dec. 11-18 at the Ed Lumley Arena.

TRIVIA Marion Robert Morrison was born in a small town in Iowa in the early 1900s. But in Hollywood he changed his name and became one of the most popular film actors of the 20th Century. Who was he?

TRIVIA ANSWER Lally-Munro Fuels had the 1950s radio ad jingle “Lally-Munro call two-seven-hundred (2700).”

QUOTED – “Politicians are people who when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.” – John Quinton

Share this article