DETAILS OF THE ACCIDENT ON THE TRANSCONTINENTAL
NORTH OF NIPIGON FEB 22,1909
Gruesome journey over 150 miles of ice and snow
with seven dead men.
Daily Times - Journal Fort William, Ontario Monday February 22, 1909
With the corpses of seven men whose lives were snuffed out in an instatnt in a premature explosion on the Transcontinental railway, a single bob sleigh, accompanied by three weary and travel stained men, arrived in Nipigon last Saturday, after having conveyed its gruesome burden over 135 miles of lakes , rivers and brush covered hils.
Since alst tuesday, the day succeeding that of the explosion, the men had been on one of the most awesome journeys ever recorded in this part of the west.
While tamping in a rock cut, some 15 feet in depth, last Monday, Nels Munson, foreman of a crew of nine men, accidently struck a charge of dynamite. When the debris occasioned by the explosion which resulted had been cleared away, it was found that only two members of the party had survived. Four lay buried beneath tons of earth and broken rock, while three had been mangled almost beyond recognition. The whole face of the cut, close to which all nine men were standing, fell in. No one has been able to account for the miraculous escape of the two survivors.
The men killed were; Nels Munson, foreman; Knute lundquist, Knute Nelson(later identified as Bjornset, 2005), Anton Gustafson, Magnus Anderson, Oscar Lundgren, Oscar Sjblom (Sjoblom).
Sjblom (Sjoblom) was a Norwegian (no, we have identified him as a Swede 2005), and the others were Swedes. (Bjorneset/Nelson was the Norwegian, 2005) They were in the employ of McCaffery and McQuaig, subcontractors under the Nipigon Construction Comapany. All were experienced at their work.
No cries were heard at the time nor following the explosion. It is thought that not one of the seven men knew that an accident had occurred. It was several minutes before either of the two men who had passed safely through the shadow of death realized what had happened. Although they were so wedged in by the falling rock that it was impossible for them to move more than a few inches, the two survivors were not even seriously bruised.
it was more than two hours before two score of willing hands could remove the debris form some of the bodies. All but two had died where they stood.
It was the break of day on the following morning that the long death march, which will form one of the most appalling chapters ofthe great railway, was begun. The only means of conveyance was the primitive bob sleigh. The trail is difficult to traverse under the best of conditions.
Knowing that the testimony of the two survivors, the only living eye-witnesses, would be required at the inquest, the superintendent of the camp advised them to accompany the driver of the team. They traveled from early morning until late evening, and took turns watching their charges by night.
The two survivors were on the verge of collapse when they arrived in Nipigon. One of them had accompanied two of the men killed across the same trail a short time before.
Crown Attorney Langworthy and Coroner Brown of port Arthur returned from Nipigon, where the inquest was held. There was no evidence produced at the inquiry to show that anyone had been to blame.
Both the foreman, who was doing the tamping and his helper were accustomed to the use of dynamite. The tools used were new and in good order.
The verdict rendered was simply that the men had come to their death as the result of an accidental explosion.
The funeral took place yesterday and was conducted by the pastor of the Swedish Anglican Church. There were no relatives present. Seven graves in a row were made in the English cemetery.
CROWN ATTORNEY LANGWORTHY'S ACCOUNT
The following brief account was written for the Times-Journal by Crown attorney Langworthy, who returned last night from the inquest.
' Nels Munson, Knute Lundquist, Knute Nelson(Bjornset), Anton Gustafson, Magnus Anderson, Oscar Lundgren, Oscar Sjblom(Sjoblom), and were all Swedes with the exception of one who was Norwegian.
These men together with two other men named John Swanson and Alex Bengtson formed a party who had taken station work on McCaffrey's and McQuaiggie's sub-contract under The Nipigon Construction Company, and at the time of the accident the men were engaged in blasting out a rock cut 15 feet in depth. The foreman Nels Munson and his helper Knute Lundquist were engaged up on top of the bank of the rock cut in loading a hole with dynamite preparatory to blasting, while the rest of the men were down in the cut clearing up the rock from the previous blast.
The only surviving witnesses of the accident are Swanson and Bengtson, and they told a most simple story of the accident. They said that there was about four feet of earth on the top rock and a pit had been dug out on the top of the cut so they could get down to the rock. A minute or so before the explosion they looked up but they were unable to see the men loading the hole as they were down in the pit but they could see the wooden loading stick going up and down showing that the foreman and his helper were engaged in pushing down the dynamite. Without any warning a terrific explosion took place which literally blew into fragments the two men who were loading the hole and also killed five of the men in the cut by the falling of the rock caused by the blast, the whole face of the cut falling in as a result of the explosion, and the men being instantly killed. The two survivors had a most thrilling experience and miraculous escape."
" The accident happened only a few yards away from the camp and in a few minutes a large gang of men was at work removing the debris and endeavouring to rescue the men, but it was well on in the night before the rock could be removed and the bodies recovered. The doctor was at the camp and was at the scene of the accident inside of five minutes, but the men were all instantly killed. All the men were experienced rock men, had been working on the same cut for some months, were all first class and careful men in handling explosives, and no one alive is able to say the cause of the accident."
'The two survivors say that they had the best of tools and outfit for the work, the dynamite was of the best, they had the best kind of a powder house, and they blame no one for the accident, and say that it was one of these unaccountable accidents that will happen in handling dynamite. The contractors did everything that could be done under the unfortunate circumstances.
They had coffins made for the men and brought them down to Nipigon over the long trail of 135 miles across lakes and rivers."