Heroic deeds remembered…

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A visit to a beautiful old cemetery in Brockville this Thanksgiving weekend got us talking about the heroic actions of Francis (Frank) Blaine one awful foggy night back in 1906.

Frank Blaine was the great-grand uncle of my partner, Bob, and his brothers, Leo, Michael and Peter. He was their father’s great-uncle (that is, the brother of their father’s grandmother).

At 10:30 pm the evening of September 20, the “Montreal Express,” or Grand Trunk Railway Train No. 2 — a high-speed train for the time — left Toronto bound for Montreal. Frank Blaine was the engineer.

Early the morning of September 21 (2:00 am) just outside Napanee, Ontario, he confronted a westbound freight train which had just come out of a siding. It was very foggy and he could not see well.

The freight train had not set a red warning lantern to indicate the main line was blocked and provide enough time for him to stop the east bound train.

Aware that there would be a head-on collision, he told his crew to jump, saving their lives. Blaine stayed with his engine in order to reduce the speed of the train as much as possible using the air brake.

According to press reports of the day the impact was so great that the giant engines were interlocked and three freight cars were smashed to kindling wood.

But not one of the passengers or crew were seriously injured or killed, except for the engineer, Frank Blaine.

Blaine had come to Canada from Ireland with his parents as a baby. He was 53 years of age when he died. He left behind a wife and five children.

There were many railway men in my partner’s family — and many paid a steep price for their occupation by way of health problems and a shortened life span. (In fact, railroaders could not even buy life insurance, the work was so dangerous.)  But none paid a higher price than Frank Blaine, who gave his life for his passengers in the accident that day.

The passengers and crew erected a monument to Frank Blaine at his grave site in tribute to him.

It reads:

HE DIED AS ONE, WHO HAD BEEN STUDIED IN HIS DEATH, TO GIVE AWAY THE SWEETEST THING HE HAD, AS TWERE A CARELESS TRIFLE.

IN LOVING MEMORY OF FRANK BLAINE BORN IN COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, DEC. 20, 1853 DIED AT NAPANEE SEPT. 21, 1906 REQUIESCAT IN PACE (May he Rest In Peace = R.I.P.)

ERECTED BY THE GRATEFUL PASSENGERS OF NO.2 EXPRESS, WHO OWE THEIR LIVES TO THE HEROISM OF THE DECEASED.

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Brothers, Leo (left) and Bob (right) Hussey, descendents of Frank Blaine, at the monument honouring him.

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30 thoughts on “Heroic deeds remembered…

  1. That is quite a monument and tribute….for an incredible act of bravery. Forgetting himself, he reached beyond himself and found that inner strength to do what he had to do so others could live. Thanks for sharing Sherry. I enjoy stories like this.

  2. An amazing and intriguing history Sherry. Being honoured in death is something for the family to be proud of. Frank did what his heart and his sense of responsibility told him to do and left a lasting memory.

  3. What courage Frank Blaine had, and beautifully related, Sherry, in words and images. Thank you.

  4. Love your story telling…you have a gift…Beautiful photos to go along with it…My favorite this time is the one of the leaves and all that lovely bokeh in the background…

  5. Yes, it sure moved me too, Laurie. I thought it should be shared. I don’t think people generally realize how dangerous working on the railroad was in the days of coal. Thanks for dropping by to read and comment!

  6. Wow, Sherry – this is a very moving story, very well told, and very evocative regarding the working conditions and dangers these men experienced. It send chills down my spine reading it, then tears to my eyes. And to top if off, the photo is beautiful. Thanks. .

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