REPORTING · 3rd February 2011
The Kitselas Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel was the scene of a great tragedy 100 years ago today. According to Terrace Heritage researcher Helene McRae, a number of individuals recorded the event and her own mother lived at Kitselas when the incident occurred. It is due to the efforts of Mrs. McRae we are able to relay these details.
Grand Trunk was in the process of constructing a railroad through to the Pacific and dynamite was being used to blast a tunnel at Kitselas Canyon. On Feb 3, 1911, according to filed Court Documents, three dayshift workers were killed when they were mucking out an area that had been blasted during the night shift. Apparently one of the charges had not been ignited and no one had informed these workers. While working, they somehow set off the charge.
The three men, Milan Londrovich, Nicola Seculavich and Risto Boyonich were working for a contractor for Grand trunk railway, Foley, Welch & Stewart. Pay at the time was 35 cents per hour.
Nine days later, on February 11, another explosion occurred when a box of powder, which had been left near the mouth of the tunnel to thaw, exploded; this according to the Prince Rupert Evening Empire report of February 13, 1911.
“Five men are dead and two badly injured by an explosion in a small tunnel, part of the Grand Trunk Pacific construction near Kitselas. A large box of powder, left near the mouth for thawing, exploded killing the workers.”
The Omineca Herald edition of February 18th reported the second explosion as occurring on February 12.
The men were buried at what is referred today as the Terrace Kitsumgallum Cemetery Heritage site on the corner at the top of the Nisga’a Highway Hill just north of Highway 16. In 1909 Samuel Charles Weeks donated this land which was then called Eby Landing for use as a cemetery. The large crosses still stand and a sign commemorating the tragic event hangs on the fence surrounding the spot to explain the historical incident and the unusual markings on the crosses. The writing is claimed to be Serbian.
The foreman on the site, M.F. Burgess, was also killed in the later explosion.
Picture taken at the site during the burial ceremonies
A closer view of the intricate designs and markings on the two crosses adorning the site
This sign, prepared by Helene McRae, is a source for many of the details in the above writings. Mrs. McRae attributes her findings to other researchers as well.
Much more can be learned of the history in the region by a trip to the heritage site