Last February, I learned about a local tragedy that has left a hole in the community of Coniston. A heart-felt roadside memorial was erected, to ensure that the men who were lost that day are never forgotten. This monument sits at the train crossing where the tragic events took place. Last spring, my mother and I visited the memorial to pay our respects.
This past Thursday, February 9th, marked the 72nd anniversary of the train crash in Coniston.
The monument reads: “This monument has been / erected to remember the / nine men who lost their / lives, and the many who were / injured at the train / crossing in the tragic / bus and train accident / on February 9, 1951. / Primo Creama / Herbert Conlon / Alex Beauparlant / David Martin / Eugene Leclair / Joseph Tremblay / Paul Sharko / Ernie Cooper / Never to be forgotten”
The early morning, of February 9th, had been incredibly cold. According to the Coniston Historical Group, the temperature had dropped to 48 degrees below zero that morning, which caused low visibility. The passenger train was also running late that morning.1 Between 8 and 8:15 a.m. tragedy struck—a CPR passenger train collided with a local bus at the railway crossing in Coniston. 31 people were injured, and 9 were dead.2 The bus had been carrying residents as well as smelter workers on their way home from a graveyard shift. The 9 men who lost their lives that day were from the same shift at the INCO smelter.1
The monument sits beside the railway tracks on the corner of Government Road and Edward Avenue, at the site where the horrific accident took place. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when the monument was erected, but from what I have read it was possibly erected by the Lions Club, in the early 2000s, and is now maintained by the Coniston Historical Group.
On the anniversary of the accident, a candlelight vigil is erected in the early morning at the monument. A custom-made INCO triangle candle holder, holds nine lit candles, one for each of the men who sadly lost their lives that day.
At the peak of the triangle is a 10th candle, that is lit in memory of the 31 who survived the crash, and for those in the community who were left behind, to mourn their friends’ families, and colleagues. It’s a beautiful memorial, that brings the community together, to share memories of their loved ones and make sure that they will never be forgotten.
My mother and I visited the memorial in late May of 2022. It was a very sunny and beautiful day. As we drove to Coniston, only a short drive away from our home, I remember wondering why I had never heard of this tragic event before. I had only learned about it after having seen a Facebook post from the Coniston Historical Group, earlier that year.
The monument sits very close to the railway tracks, if you didn’t know it was there—you might miss it. There is a small parking area right next to the monument, with a little walkway that leads up to the memorial. The site is very well taken care of, and you can feel the love the community has for this memorial and what it symbolizes. I think what makes this memorial a bit surreal, is the fact that it sits right next to the train tracks where the accident happened so many years ago. I know it must have looked a lot different then, but it’s a very somber feeling to look at the railway tracks just behind the monument and know that that is where it happened.
This monument is a cenotaph, a marker where the deceased have been laid to rest elsewhere. As I read and researched I became curious as to where these 9 men now rest. I have been able to locate the resting place of three of them; Alex Beauparlant, David Martin, and Paul Sharko. I hope to find the other 6 and visit them this summer to pay my respects.
I always find roadside memorials incredibly moving. This was a tragic accident that changed the fabric of the small town of Coniston forever, but it will never be forgotten. I’d like to thank the Coniston Historical Group for all the good work they do to maintain this memorial, and for their educational posts on Facebook, as they continue to share the history and story of Coniston. So much history could be lost if it wasn’t for groups like theirs.
Thanks for reading.
- Canadian Disaster Database | Government of Canada
- Facebook post | Coniston Historical Group
- Toronto Star
- Madera Tribune