Thursday, October 22, 2015

The DesJardins Canal Catastrophe

  I've lived almost my entire life in Burlington and Oaville, Ontario and I've never heard about the DesJardins Canal Catastrophe.  I was in one of the older cemeteries in Oakville (St Marys) over the weekend whose claim to fame is Chisholm family plot,  Colonel William Chisholm being the founder of Oakville. 
  My research for a fellow genealogist from Michigan took me to the Husband family plot surrounded by the Chisholms but a different stone is what caught my eye.  It lay broken in three pieces in the ground under a tree and not really close to other stones.  It read ".... of Michael and Rose who were killed at [the] DesJardin Canal Catastrophe March 12 1857".  It was a memorial for two sisters, Mary Devine, aged 15 and Ellen Devine aged 20.  I decided to dig a bit further and discovered that one of my favorite places in Burlington was the scene of a rail disaster.  The Great Western Railway company built a railway swing bridge 40 feet above the DesJardins Canal near Cootes Paradise. On March 12, 1857, the front axle of a passenger train broke as it approached the bridge. As a result, the train jumped the tracks, crashed through the bridge, and fell through 2 feet of frozen canal, destroying the engine and submerging the two passenger cars.  The second passenger car apparently landed on it's front end, sticking up out of the water.  Mary and Ellen were on their way to see their brother in Hamilton and various newspaper report state they were from Port Nelson, now Burlington.  Mary and Ellen died together and did not appear to have been thrown apart as many families riding the train had.  Their brother instead of picking them up at the nearby station, ended up identifying their bodies. Poor sisters and poor family.  What a tragic way to end young lives.

While many died gruesome deaths, there were also a few miraculous survivals. I've found a number of websites about this disaster the last one including accounts of the rescues:

The Sarnia Observer, March 19, 1857 (full newspaper text online):,107185

Full details of the railway disaster of the 12th of March 1857 at the DesJardins Canal of the line on the Great Western Railroad:

The DesJardins Canal Disaster on the Hamilton Public Library website:

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