Tales from the South Shore- Shag Harbour’s Great Tragedy. Two Boys Killed Outright, Three More Likely to Die, and Two More Badly Burned
Thursday July 1. 1909, at Shag Harbour Railway Station, was the advent of one of the greatest tragedies that this part of the Province ever witnessed. Two boys were instantly killed by the explosion of a cask containing a small quantity of electric-carbon paint, such as used in the painting of the iron bridges along the railroad, and three others, probably fatally burned.
Last October men were employed in painting the iron bridges along the Halifax, and South Western Railway, and at the Railway Bridge at Shag Harbour, a cask containing the paint was about emptied and was left at Shag Harbour Railway Station, standing on the platform. It remained there all winter and spring until the day of the terrible accident.
Thursday, being Dominion Day, the lads had gathered together, were making the most of their holiday. The train was nearly due, and they thought that they would go to the station and see her come in. One of the lads had a piece of wax candle that he had picked up during the day and which he still had in his possession. He procured a few matches from the station agent for the purpose of lighting it, when another lad took the match which was burning, after the candle was lit, and attempted to drop it into the cask, as the spigot hole was open.
The lads were standing on the platform around the cask watching the lad drop the match into the cask, not thinking that there was any danger in doing so. The lad stood looking into the cask to see what the effects would be. But poor little fellow, he never knew, for in an instant, there was deafening explosion and roar, which was heard for miles, and at the same time, the cask shot into the air, striking the lad in the face, severing his head form his body, and lifting his body out on to the platform, and his head, thirty feet away our on to the railroad track.
Immediately after the explosion, the end of the station was in flames, carried by the paint catching fire, which was composed of a very flammable substance, coal tar being a large part of its composition.
The cask, striking the end of station with such force, ripped apart clapboards, and broke through the boarding-in, and shooting out from the station, landing fifty feet away, out on to the station ground half burying itself in the mud. There were two lads who were not in the first group, but they ran to get to the station before the train.
At the first shock of the explosion, the mail carrier, and the station agent, ran out to see what had happened. In turning the corner of the station, a terrible sight met their view. The end of the platform, and the station in flames, and the bodies of the two boys lying in them. The mail carrier managed to pull one out before it burned too badly, but he was unable to rescue the other, as the fire and smoke was too much for him. He and the agent turned their attention to the other lads who were running around with their clothing afire. The agent who was a young lady, Miss Ryder, from Lower Argyle, acted with great courage, and presence of mind. She caught one of the lads, who was on fire and wrapping him in her apron, quickly smothered the flames, and in danger of burning herself. The mail carrier caught some of the others and extinguished the fire on them, burning his hand badly in doing so. The train was about due at the time, and as she came in sight the agent signalled her to stop, which she quickly did at her arrival at the station. A hose was quickly turned on the fire which was quickly under control, and finally put out. A ghostly spectacle presented itself to the passengers on the train, and to the people of the village, who had quickly gathered at the scene at the alarm of fire. On the cage of the platform, lay the body of one poor little lad, with his head gone, and another lay at the end of the station where the fire was the hottest, burnt to a crisp, every bit of clothing burnt from his body. Poor little lads, only ten minutes before, they were full of life, and fun, and in so short a time, to be swept out of life in so terrible a manner.
The injured lads were removed to their homes, as quickly as possible, and medical assistance summoned, and the lads made as comfortable as possible. An inquest was held, and the bodies were removed to their homes. They were buried on Sunday morning, with a large congregation in attendance, the Rev. G.H. Wilson conducting the service. Much Sympathy is felt for the sorrowing families and a great shadow resting over the village.
The two lads killed. Were Burnley, son of Captain and Mrs. Delmar Kendrick, burnt in the fire, and Frank Crosby, adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Kenney, his head taken off. The lads who were burned, were Arnold, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Garron, who died from the effects of his burns. Wilfred son of Mr. and Mrs. Jared Smith, who was severely burned, also, William, son of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Hopkins, Harold, son of Capt. and Mrs. Thomas D. Crowell, and lesser burned, and Sidney, son of Captain and Mrs. Adelbert Nickerson.