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One of Canada’s worst crashes: Re-telling the Almonte, Ont., train wreck of 1942

It was one of Canada’s worst train accidents in history. Now 81 years on, a Pembroke author is re-telling the events of the tragic night in the Ottawa Valley.

“Most of the victims of the crash were from the small Ottawa Valley towns stretching from Chalk River to Arnprior,” says Jamie Bramburger, author of the recently released book Sudden Impact: The Almonte Train Wreck of 1942.

The crash happened Dec. 27, 1942, in the middle of what is now downtown Almonte.

Bramburger says a passenger train filled with people commuting back to Ottawa after Christmas was struck in the rear by a locomotive carrying troops destined for the battlefields of the Second World War.

“The two trains meet up in Almonte and it’s a catastrophe. The troop train slams into the back of the passenger train. The last two coaches are obliterated. The locomotive stops halfway through the third coach,” explains Bramburger. “The wooden coaches were just obliterated, pieces of wood flying everywhere, people being thrown all around the area.”

Thirty-eight people died because of the crash and more than 150 people were injured.

“Most of the people who died that night were killed instantly.”

A monument to the crash was erected in downtown Almonte in 2000, with connections to that night found in corners across the Ottawa Valley.

Pembroke resident Kathy Gerundin’s father was on one of the trains that night. She still has his train ticket from that harrowing night.

“He had been accepted into the Royal Canadian Navy as a firefighter. He was going to be on the passenger train from Renfrew to Toronto,” Gerundin tells CTV News. “Dad survived the train wreck, but he was left with an injury to his ankle that plagued him for the rest of his life.”

Gavin Leishman, now 83, was on the passenger train when he was just two years old.

He says he was travelling with his mother from Pembroke to Ottawa after visiting family for Christmas.

“We didn’t have any injuries,” says Leishman. “Nothing happened to my mother or myself. We were far enough up the train; I guess that all we felt was a jolt.”

Bramburger’s book is available through Burnstown Publishing House and can be purchased online.

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