June 24, 1995
's KVA Unit 21 and others gathered to remember 17 members of the 2nd
Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery headed for the Korean War but
who never reached their goal. Their special troop train collided
with the Eastbound Continental CN No. 2 passenger train near
, B. C. on
November 21, 1950
"At Cedarside" had been omitted from a telegraph message
delivered to the troop train at Red Pass Junction. Instead of the
train going to a siding at Cedarside, between Valemount and
, it continued another eight km. to
and met the No. 2 train when it came around a mountain curve at full
I was living in
at the time and recalled the accident for two reasons. I came from
a CN family so noticed anything to do with the railway, and it was the
first time I heard of John Diefenbaker; the sound of his name intrigued
In his book One Canada, Diefenbaker tells that he was in
when John Atherton, the 22-year-old telegrapher charged with
manslaughter in the crash, asked Edna Diefenbaker if her husband would
defend him. She said yes. Atherton was acquitted.
My husband, John, had a different reason for remembering the crash.
He had passed this way a few days before, also on a troop train, headed
At the recent gathering at
, even the trains slowed down as we paid tribute to the soldiers who had
died in this thinly populated area of northeastern B. C. The CN
arranged so that no trains would pass through during the service, and
also provided their security police.
In the quiet setting, surrounded by tall trees, snow-capped
and an overcast sky, 125 people—Korean War veterans and their families,
friends, relatives of the deceased, military personnel, Legion members
and CN employees—came from the three Western provinces
to honor the soldiers and also the train crews who were killed.
We all met at the town of
, where two large school buses transported the guests several kilometres
to a point just west of
. We turned off No. 5 Highway onto an obscure gravel road, drove
through the trees up to the railway tracks, then walked a short distance
to a cairn.
The event was planned by
's Korea Veterans Association Unit 21. Their color party marched
to the sound of the bagpipes and an RCMP officer in his dress uniform
stood at attention during the ceremony. The gun salute was
presented by members of the 78th Field Battery of the 20th Field
We laid wreaths, observed silence for fallen comrades, listened to the
Last Post and Reveille, sang O Canada and God Save the Queen, had
Scripture Reading and Prayer.
Only the mute cairn standing tall beside the railway tracks with a
plaque containing the simple words "
- 2nd Field Regiment - RCHA" hinted that something had gone awry.
The date also told us that the weather was not likely as tranquil on
that November day back in 1950. It had been -15'F and the ground
was covered with several inches of fresh snow.
"It revived more painful memories than I expected," says John
Stables of Edmonton, who first returned to the site at the time of the
memorial service. He was one of the soldiers who had boarded the
, bound for
, where they were scheduled to sail for
He remembers some details of the crash very clearly. He was
playing cribbage with three comrades when all of a sudden they were
thrown forward, breaking the table. They thought the train may
have run into a land slide or pile of rocks on the rail bed.
"I opened the coach door on the down-side and on looking towards
the front of the train, saw all of the coaches in front of us were off
the track. The engines, baggage cars and some of the coaches were
down the hill piled on top of one another."
He jumped out and ran toward the coaches, then started pulling at
splintered wood and other debris to help the injured get out.
"I was using a rifle as a pry bar when a young officer said, 'Don't
you know you are damaging military equipment using a rifle as a pry
bar.' The officer must have been in shock."
He spent quite a bit of time on top of the wreck helping to remove the
injured and dead; some were personal friends. "Probably
because I had been subjected to scenes of injury and death during the
2nd World War helped me somewhat to deal with the situation," he
feels even now. Many of the younger soldiers had been in uniform
only a few weeks.
Stables also recalls seeing a railroad watch on one of the train crew
who was killed. His crushed watch had stopped at the time of the
"It was a solemn and quiet troop of gunners as the train made its
to remove the dead and injured, before proceeding to Wainwright for
re-equipment before proceeding again to
Six other soldiers from that fateful train were also at the service.
George Skinner came from Barrhead, Alberta, and the rest came from
points in British Columbia: Tom Dussome (Sardis), Henry Mynett (Chilliwack),
Fred Quebec and Ken Campbell (Prince George), and Len Johann from Cedar
on Vancouver Island.
The actual site of the accident is over a kilometre west of the cairn
and the only identifying marks are a newer growth of trees. It is
difficult to reach except by rail. After the ceremony, Fred Quebec
walked to the site. "Now I can put the accident behind
me," he said later.
John Stables honored his comrades by reading the names of the gunners
who died in the wreck. They had come from across Canada—Arden Atchison (Loon Lake, Sask.),
Weldon Barkhouse (Wolfville, N. S.), Norman Carroll (Pennant, Sask.),
Frederick Conway (Grand Falls, Nfld.), Robert Craig (Foam Lake, Sask.),
Austin George (Eight Island Lake, Nfld.), Urbain Levesque (Ottawa,
Ont.), Robert Manley (Niagara Falls, Ont.), Basil McKeown (Moscow,
Ont.), Albert Orr (Calgary, Alberta), David Owens (Granby, Quebec),
Leslie Snow (St. Johns, Nfld.), Albert Stroud (Howley, Nfld.), Joseph
Thistle (Conception Bay, Nfld.), James Wenkert (Cowansville, Quebec),
James White (Placentia Bay, Nfld.) and William Wright (Neepawa, Man.).
Mrs. Glenda Conforth from Jasper paid tribute to the four train crew who
also were killed. Her father, Harvey Church, was the engineer on
the troop train; he was 49. The fireman, Henry Prosinuk, had just
transferred to Jasper from
a week earlier. Jack Stinson was driving the
transcontinental train, accompanied by fireman Adam Oleschuk.
Another special guest at the memorial service was Mrs. Ardina Atchison,
87, whose son, Arden, died in Jasper right after the crash. She
was accompanied by her son, Bruce, and daughters, Betty Petrie and
Verlie Mason. Originally from
, they all now reside in the
Although the family had driven past on the highway many times, they were
never sure where the accident had happened. For the mother, it
brought back a lot of memories of her newly married son who had just
turned 21 on November 17th.
Bruce was 11 at the time. "I remember clearly a soldier
bringing the coffin to
for burial." Verlie, who was only four years old when her
brother died, wondered somewhat sadly what might have been had
lived. He would be 65 now.
Larry LeForge attended from Valemount. He was working for the CN
there in 1950, and was the first one called out to go to the scene of
KVA Unit 21 President Lee Simpson paid tribute to the many soldiers who
were injured in the wreck, especially those who are still suffering from
For seven of us, it was our first get-together since our veterans'
last April. We exchanged pictures and recalled our visits to the
battlefields at Kap'yong and the graves of the Canadian soldiers in the
U. N. Cemetery in
We came back to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the end of World
War II, in our own city, and being televised from
, the same as in
, we honored those who had died in the service of
Kolanchey is the wife of Chaplain John Kolanchey of KVA Unit 21,
and has been editor of the unit’s newsletter for the past six years.
She was living in
at the time of the
train crash and remembers hearing about the injured being brought to the
.Her article was originally
published in 1996 by Western