HISTORY: A curious commmunity connection between Agassiz and Pelham, Ont.

History columnist Lindsay Foreman shares her most recent story about how small Canada really is

By Lindsay Foreman

It is such a “small” world out there; we are connected in curious ways to one another. Don’t believe me? Let me share my most recent encounter with crazy connections.

It occurred on Sunday, Nov. 17, when I was chatting on the phone with my mom, Judy Foreman. This was our usual weekly catch-up session, during which we shared how our week went and what we had planned for the next week. My mom consistently reads her local community paper, The Voice of Pelham (the Town of Pelham, where I grew up and spent the first 18 years of my life, is located in the Niagara Region of Ontario, approximately a 25-minute drive from the infamous Niagara Falls), and brings up events of interest. So I wasn’t surprised when she said, “We read something in the paper this week we thought you might like.”

(We being both her and my dad, Tom, who very likely brought the article to her attention. But my mom always talks to me first — this is just the order of operations — so she was the one who had the privilege of sharing this tidbit.)

“A man wrote about being in an accident with a train in this small farming town in BC called Agassiz (N.B. She pronounced it Agazzi). Do you know where that is?”

An early Agassiz car accident. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

I nearly jumped out of my skin. “Do you mean Agassiz? Mom that accident would have occurred right outside the building I work in!”

And my mind went racing. When did the accident occur? Who was this man? What was his tie to Agassiz?

“Oh okay. Well I’ll just send you the article so you can read it yourself. Or you can go online and see if you can find it there.”

I did try to locate the article online, but I wasn’t willing to pay the $0.99 to access the e-edition. So I just waited until the hard copy arrived in the mail, which it did on Nov. 19.

The column, entitled “Things to avoid while driving … For example, trains” was written by Robert Norminton. It turns out that Mr. Norminton spent some time working for the B.C. Electric Company, the precursor to BC Hydro, in 1953, surveying a power line route along Harrison Lake.

One fateful evening in the spring of 1953, Mr. Norminton and two colleagues drove from Harrison Hot Springs to Agassiz to watch a film at our Aga Theatre. Unfortunately, they never made it. Mr. Norminton’s 1939 cream-coloured Packard 120 convertible was hit by an eastbound train as they tried to cross over the double tracks into downtown Agassiz. Luckily, everyone was alright, and Mr. Norminton eventually received $687 for his car, more than he had originally paid.

I am hoping to write a follow-up article to The Voice, truthing Mr. Norminton’s experience. Our archives hold most of the community newspapers back to 1923, and I was able to find an article in the March 25, 1953 issue of the Agassiz-Harrison Advance that documented the accident.

Part of the front page of The Advance from March 25, 1953. The article of interest is in the bottom right corner “Three Narrowly Miss Death At C.P.R. Crossing.” (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

In “Three Narrowly Miss Death At C.P.R. Crossing,” (which made front page news) the reader learns that the accident occurred on Tuesday, March 24, 1953 at 7 p.m. Mr. Norminton’s view was obscured by box cars sitting on the track, and the way-freight backed into his car and dragged it over 10 feet. Very slight damage occurred to the back steps of the train’s caboose.

This is the first documented train and car accident at this crossing, which occurred before a signal or guard was installed.

We are curious if you, members of our community, remember this accident and any other subsequent accidents. If so, please share your memories with us! You can call us at 604-796-3545 or send us an e-mail at agassizharrisonmuseum@shawbiz.ca. And I will keep reading our newspaper archives to track down additional information about incidents outside the Agassiz CPR station.

Who knew that me, a woman from a small rural community in Ontario, would be connected to a gentleman who chose to retire there and to share his “claim to fame” as the first car vs. train accident in Agassiz! Thanks for reading the paper Mom and Dad!


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