Canada’s Worst Avalanche

On March 4th, 1910 a snow avalanche descended into the valley at the Summit of Rogers Pass. A crew of men and a locomotive-driven snow blower were dispatched to clear the tracks. The men would clear the debris from the snow and the snow blower would move in to blow the snow off of the tracks.

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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. All but one of the workmen were instantly buried in the deep snow. The only survivor was Billy Lachance (God given name?) the locomotive fireman who had been knocked over by the wind accompanying the fall but otherwise remained unscathed. He never returned to the railroad life.

Photo Source

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 treat; it became a mission to clear the tracks and recover the bodies beneath 10 metres of snow. Many of the dead were found standing upright, frozen in position, reminiscent of Pompeii. Only 58 bodies were recovered at the time; a further four were only found when the snow melted the following spring. Among the dead were 32 Japanese workers.

The disaster was not the first of the pass; between 1885 and 1911 deaths in the avalanche riddled area totalled over 200. 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.

On March 1, 1910 several hundred miles to the south the worst avalanche in the history of the United States happened. Wellington, Washington was a Great Northern stop high in the Cascades.Ninety-six people were killed, including 35 passengers, 58 Great Northern employees on the trains, and three railroad employees in the depot.


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