“The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy.” – From the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot’s song, The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald
Lake Superior has claimed a big toll of those who have challenged its fierce storms, icy waters and great depths. Most of its disasters involve ships. A few are aircraft pilots who come to grief over-flying the lake. But a freight train locomotive and its boxcars plunging off a rocky cliff into the lake may be unprecedented.
Superior is the largest, coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes system, which is the largest fresh-water source in the world. The Great Lakes touch the shorelines of both Canada and the U.S.
On Nov. 10, 1975, all 29 crew members of the Edmond Fitzgerald perished in a fierce storm that sunk the iron-ore carrier. Tragedies are not uncommon on Lake Superior, but the freight train accident is. The 1910 mystery was not solved until 106 years after the tragedy occurred.
Unlike the Edmond Fitzgerald, the demise of the locomotive was not due to a fierce storm on the lake. It was a rock slide that covered the tracks that bordered the lake and derailed the train when it struck the rocks. The common denominator was that both ended up at the bottom of Lake Superior.
Crews on freight trains are usually small, so that limited the death toll to just three men. One of the bodies was never found. The accident happened on June 9, 1910, but the train was not found until July 22, 2016. The wreckage ended up near Schreiber Ontario on Lake Superior’s north shore.
Canada’s CBC news agency reported that the train fell 20 metres to the lake and then descended another 60 metres to the bottom.
Tom Crossmon, a Minnesota-based underwater recovery expert, found CPR (Canadian Pacific Railways) 694 on the bottom of Lake Superior thanks to the use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). It was fitted with a camera to locate the wreckage. They were not successful with sonar.
Crossmon, who quarterbacked the mission, said “I think all of us on the boat were pretty blown away. To think that we were the first people in 106 years to see something that hasn’t been seen, it’s pretty impressive, that feeling.”
London Ontario diver Terry Irvine found the location of two of the boxcars and gave Crossmon the GPS co-ordinates. Greg Hilliard, Allisha Hilliard, Dave Ferguson and Jeff Shirk also contributed to solving the mystery. The damage is too severe to raise the train.
But Canadian Pacific Railway Locomotive No. 694 has been found, closing the file on one of the most bizarre accidents in the history of Lake Superior. Crossmon said it is the only locomotive he is aware of in the Great Lakes.
CPR 694 – Revisited: Video by Terry Irvine @ YouTube