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Coroner's Inquest At Grand Forks

[ A typical brick Doukhobor communal house near Grand Forks, Jim Hamm,   ]



Before C.M. Kingston, MD., Coroner at Grand Forks, October 29th, 1924 — beginning 8.00 p.m.

Gentlemen of the Jury — Sworn -

H.C. Kerman, Foreman, — E. Baily, — D. McPherson, — D.C. Manly, — S.J. Matthews, and P.B. Freeland.

On adjournment remains of John McKie, Peter Veregin, P.J. Campbell and Hakim Singh viewed by jury, all victims of explosion wrecking C.P.R. train No. 11 westbound from Nelson this date.

JOSEPH TURNER — sworn, sayeth, I live at Nelson, B.C. My employment is Conductor employed by the C.P.R.. I run from Nelson to Midway. I left Nelson on Oct. 28th, inst. at 9.20 p.m. I carried in car 1st class 1586. At a point about 2 poles east of mileage 59 while the train was in motion traveling on time and scarcely at our usual rate of speed, between 15 and 20 miles per hour. I was in the baggage car directly ahead of coach 1586. I heard a very loud explosion. It blew in the end door of the baggage car blowing it off its hinges. The explosion set the brakes and stopped the train in about 2 car lengths. I with brakeman W. Marquis and Baggageman Jos. Brennan went back to the wrecked car to give any assistance, having seen through the broken door that a serious accident had occurred. Could see flames inside the rear door and a blue flame issuing from some place outside the car lower down. The flame inside would be the burning of wood and the blue flame outside the burning of gas. I could see no evidence of gas escaping inside the car.

We got fire extinguishers going from the baggage car and from the sleeper in the rear, Marquis and I went inside and Brennan went outside to assist the injured. Inside the coach we found first H.K. Fawcett, News Agent. and several others. We took them out of coach and laid them along the bank. We thought we had them all out after we carried out six. Others were either blown out or got out themselves. We, Marquis and myself worked throughout the car clearing away the debris in search of further injured or dead. We carried no dead out of the car. We were driven out of the east end by gas but not until we thought we had everybody out. I saw Peter Veregin afterward lying to the north and down the grade about 20 feet from the coach. There was no sign of life. I saw Mr. McKie lying a little to the west and about the same distance from the coach. To all appearances life was extinct. I noticed a lady lying a little to the east of Peter Veregin, she was alive. She was taken into the sleeper. We saw no other dead. I organized the men available to take care of the injured and went to Farron for help and reported the accident to Nelson Office. I arranged for a pusher engine to follow me back from Farron to scene of wreck. The engine came down to scene of wreck. The injured were taken into the sleeper and baggage cars. I can't say how many were put into the sleeper as this was done while I was at Farron. I put 5 injured in the baggage car. The sleeper went to Nelson and the baggage car came to Grand Forks. As far as I knew at the time there were onlytwo fatalities.

I can't say what was the cause of the accident. The north side of the car was much of it blown out. The roof was practically gone throughout the centre of the car. I had been in this coach 35 to 40 seconds previous to this. There was no sign of gas or anything wrong when I went through. The coach was lighted with gas. The gas is supplied from two tanks slung under the coach entirely outside. I was not able to get close to the tanks owing to the fire bit they seemed to be intact. I satisfied myself that the cause of the accident was not gas explosion. There is nothing else carried on or about the coach that I am aware of to cause such a explosion.

Mr. Veregin sat on the North side about the middle of the coach, a lady sat with him in the same seat. Mr. McKie sat two seats ahead of Mr. Veregin on same side. Mr. Bishop and Mr. Armstrong sat together one or two seats behind Mr. Veregin. Three men sat in a double seat about opposite Mr. Veregin and three Hindoos sat near the rear of the coach, south side. I didn't have occasion to notice any box or parcel out of ordinary in the coach. Three Doukhobors got on at Tunnel coming to Grand Forks. They sat on the North side to the rear of the coach. I saw Mr. Veregin and his lady get on but didn't notice any baggage. I have had no experience with explosives and could not say what explosive would cause the amount of damage done to the coach. I didn't notice any holes in the floor of the car but I noted that most damage was generally in the centre of the car. We were able and did go through the car.

Mr. Veregin got on at Brilliant, also the lady with him. Another man I took to be a Doukhobor got on at Brilliant and rode as far as Castlegar. I saw him get on I didn't see him carry anything. He sat to the rear of Mr. Veregin, but I don't know how many seats back. The three Doukhobors who got on at Tunnel were all injured and were taken to Nelson. The gas tanks were both carried on the south side of the coach. I don't think the gas carried was explosive. I noted that a steam pipe running underneath the car about the middle and about where Mr. Veregin sat was badly kinked downwards. The floor is made of two layers of flooring with a filling between. No passengers got out at Farron. Most of the passengers were sleeping or dozing. A passenger could have got on at Farron and I not noticed it. The third passenger who got on at Brilliant was middle aged and fairly well dressed.

(Signed) Joseph Turner Witness — C.M. Kingston, Coroner.

I, JOSEPH BRENNAN, sworn, sayeth, I live at Nelson, my occupation is trainman and baggage man, I ran on No. 11 yesterday Nelson to Midway. I was in the baggage car when the explosion occurred. This was about 12.55 A.M. on Oct. 29th, I got out and helped the injured. I worked in the west end. I helped get out some of the injured. I didn't see anyone in the car who had been fatally injured and didn't see anyone outside fatally injured either. I have no idea at all as to how the accident occurred. I took on three bundles of baggage at Tunnel, none at Brilliant and none at Farron. I had a letter from the section foreman at Coykendahl. I noted Peter Veregin sitting on the north side of the car and a lady with him. I noted Mr. McKie sitting a little ahead but on the opposite side. Three Hindoos sat back near the rear. I saw no suspicious looking packages in the coach when I went through. The lights were out in the coach when I went back to help. I noted no injured whose clothes were on fire. I carried an electric lantern. I don't know much about the smell of smoke from explosives. I didn't notice anyone else but Mr. Veregin get on the train at Brilliant. The fire was burning quite fast in the coach when I went in. I didn't notice any oil burning.

(Signed) Joseph Brennan.

I, WILFRED MARQUIS, sworn, sayeth — I live at Nelson, my occupation is trainman, run, Nelson to Midway, I made my last trip Oct. 28th, leaving Nelson 9.20 p.m. On this run about 1 mile west of Farron an explosion occurred in the day coach. I was in the baggage car. It knocked me against the side of the car and dazed me. Immediately we saw fire and smoke in the day coach and we rushed to open door of the day coach, with Cond. Turner and Mr. Brennan in going into the door of the day coach we found boards and timber obstructing our way. We cleared these away and found Mr. Fawcett in the corner of the coach, front end. We helped him out through the side of the coach. Just back of him we found two others under the seats. We got those out. We saw no dead in the coach. I noticed that the floor of the coach was kinked down in the middle. We got a smell of gas to the east end of the car. The roof of the coach was open. I saw Peter Veregin get on the train at Brilliant, a lady was with him. A man carried his grip in and got off again. Another man got on at Brilliant and got off at Castlegar. He was a Doukhobor. I don't know whether I would know him again. I think he sat on the North side toward the rear of the coach. I saw three Doukhobors get on at Tunnel. No one got on at Farron. The seats were all torn into small pieces and thrown around. The most damage was done at the centre near where Peter Veregin was sitting. The track was straight where the accident occurred.

(Signed) Wilfred Marquis Witness: C.M. Kingston, Coroner.

EDWARD YOUNG BRAKE — sworn, sayeth — I reside at Nelson, my occupation is car foreman, I visited the scene of the accident 1 mile west of Farron today. There are two large tanks 12 feet long 18 inches diameter, The two tanks are connected together by means of pipes carried up through the end of the car then through the roof, lengthwise on the top of the centre of the roof with T connection leading to each lamp. There is an opening and closing valve to each lamp for lighting, there is also a main valve in the upright pipe leading from the floor to the roof of the car, inside the car generally, in the men's toilet. It is quite safe to operate the lamp from this main valve and leaving all valves for each individual lamp open. I examined both tanks today and found both tanks intact except they had fallen down on the track owing to the wood work having been burnt away. Had an explosion occurred one or both tanks would have been blown to pieces. The gas is a light gas. It would have been quite impossible for an explosion to have occurred from the car gas as the system was found today. I cannot say what caused the explosion.

(Signed) E. Y. Brake.

(Inquest adjourned to 10:00 a.m. Saturday Nov. 1st.)

On Nov. 1st, 1924 at 10 a.m. the Inquest was resumed before C.M. Kingston at Grand Forks, B.C., on the bodies of J. McKie, P.J. Campbell, Hakim Singh and Peter Veregin. Gentlemen of the Jury, sworn. H.C. Kennan (Foreman), E. Bailey, D. McPherson, D.C. Manly, S.J. Matthews and P.B. Freeland. Evidence in brief was given as follows:

Mr Frank Russo, Sworn:
I have been living at Trail, I am a carpenter, I left Trail at 7 am. Tuesday night Oct. 28th, I was going to Vancouver by train (C.P.R.) I went from Trail to Castlegar and changed at the latter place for Vancouver. I was in the train with my wife I took a seat in the day coach with my wife I sat at the end of the coach, but the News Agent said he wanted my seat and he asked me to move to the next seat, my wife and I both moved and sat in the next seat. I complained to the trainman that it was cold in the coach, after 15 minutes from the time I complained of the cold the steam came on the coach then got warm and the pipes started to crack making popping noises the trainman opened the ventilators, my wife told me she was afraid the water pipes would explode. I told her not to be scared.

After we left Castlegar I got sleepy, my wife had gone to sleep. I saw the trainman turn the lights down. I then went to sleep. I did not hear the explosion. the next time I woke up the car was full of flames. My wife said to me, what is wrong with you, she had to explain to me what had happened, she was showing me people that had been hurt, the smell of smoke made me sick. I do not remember anything more till I got to Grand Forks hospital. I saw some Hindoos on the train. I think that there were about 21 people in the coach, a coat that I had on me smelt of powder. I heard a noise in the pipes about 15 minutes before I went to sleep. I have never heard hot water pipes make so much noise before, I think the explosion was caused by the hot water pipes bursting.

(Signed) Frank Russo.

PATRICK O'SHAUGNESSY, Sworn: — I have no fixed residence, I have been in Fernie for about two months. I came to Canada from Ireland. I have been in Canada for about a year. I left Nelson on October 28th leaving the same night on C.P.R. train for Vancouver, two friends were traveling with me, James Wolfe and Patrick Scanlon, we had been traveling together. I remember passing Castlegar and the News Agent getting on at that point. Scanlon and myself were sitting in the day coach 2 seats from Mr. and Mrs. Russo, Wolfe sat on the other side opposite me, I went to sleep and next thing I heard was an explosion, it sounded to me like a pistol shot, not a big noises, I saw a sheet of fire in front of me when I opened my eyes. I then became unconscious. I came to again but found I could not move my lower limbs, I heard groaning, Scanlon said to me "come on", he pulled me out. I saw News Agent kneeling on the car his face was blackened. I noticed Peter Verigin on the train, I did not see anyone get on the train except the News Agent get on at Castlegar.

(Signed) Patrick O'Shaughnessy.

MR. J. HOUSE. Sworn: — I am a C.P.R. Constable stationed at Nelson. I arrived at the wreck on October 29, and made an examination of the wreck with S/Sergt. Gammon of Prov. Police, Nelson, at the place where the explosion took place, at about 50 feet up the hill on the bank I found part of a dry cell battery. I also found the remains of an alarm clock where the coach burnt up. I think there is a piece of copper wire attached to one of the cog wheels. I made a careful search of the wreckage but found nothing else. I produce exhibits, Dry Cell and Clock (A and B). I think the clock and dry cell are a part of a time bomb. I also found a complete inside of a pocket about 300 yards from where the explosion took place.

(Signed) J. House.

MR. D. McNABB. Sworn states: — I reside at Vancouver, B.C., I am Inspector of the Bureau of Explosives, an International organization, I am not the employee of Government. I am employed by the American Railway Assn. which covers U.S.A.. Mexico and Canada, in charge of the safe transportation of explosives and other dangerous articles. I visited the scene of the explosion on Thursday evening and Friday morning, 30 and 31st. There is very little left to base an opinion of the cause of explosion, but after examination of the car, I can hardly escape the conclusion in view of the havoc that was wrought that the explosion was due solely to one of the highest of explosives placed inside the car either accidentally or by design the flame produced by one of the high explosives would be to short to set fire over as wide an area of the car as I understand occurred and if the explosion was due to plot the occurrence of the fire to have been simultaneously or coincident with the explosion would be an indication of the presence in the same container or very close thereto of some inflammable liquid contained in a very fragile vessel might possibly and scatter the contents at the same time as the explosion and before the flame of the explosion had died out.

(Signed) D. W. McNabb.

FRANCIS LEACH, Sworn: — I am Inspector of Explosives residing at Vancouver, B.C., employed by the Dominion Government. Dept. of Mines, Ottawa. My duties are enforcement of the Explosives Act all over Canada and I investigate all accidents. I made an examination of the wreck at Farron. I think that the explosion took place near Exhibit D (Hot water pipe), the dent in the pipe being made by a projected object a piece of iron off a seat could have made a dent like this in pipe, the dent was found on the inner side of the pipe. I found that the fuses (safety) on the gas tank had melted and allowed the gas to escape. I could find no trace of an explosion taking place outside the car. The explosion must have taken place inside the car, from the shattering of projected material I am of the opinion was caused by a high explosive, such as dynamite or nitro-glycerine. I confirm Mr. Brake's evidence as to the gas pipes being in place, I could find no break in the gas pipes.

(Signed) Francis Leach.

E.Y BRAKE, Sworn: — I am a C.P.R. car foreman and reside at Nelson, I made an examination of the wreck, the gas pipes located underneath the floor of the car and come up through the toilet and then on top of the car. I found the gas tanks were intact, it would be impossible for the water pipes to explode. About 15 lbs. is the steam pressure carried in the hot water pipes.

(Signed) E. Y. Brake.

THOS. MEAKES, Sworn: — I live in Grand Forks. I am the City Electrician, I have examined dry cell (exhibit), I do not think that I have ever seen a dry cell with the same terminal as exhibit, in my opinion the terminal has been used for something unusual.

(Signed) Thos. Meakes.


We find that the following persons came to their death: J. McKie — P.J. Campbell — Hakim Singh — Peter Verigin. One mile west of Farron about 1 a.m. on October 29th, 1924, as a result of the discharge of a high explosive placed within passenger coach No. 1586 of the Canadian Pacific Rly. by some person or persons unknown. We strongly urge the Can. Pacific Rly. Co. and the Provincial authorities to continue their efforts to definitely place the responsibility for the disaster and to this we recommend that exhibits A and B (dry cell) (clock) which we have before us examined by experts and their ownership's determined if possible.

(Signed) A. G. Birch, Sergi. # 5166.

Source: University of Victoria Archives, KCIR Files, Box 1; Folder 1.14, , Coroner's Inquest At Grand Forks, October 29, 1924.

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