Canada Atlantic Railroad – Archives of Canada
Almost every railroad has a ghostly lantern story and the Canada Atlantic Railway is no exception. Its brief 35-year existence from 1879 to 1914, makes its own existence relatively ghostly.
Lumber Baron John Rudolphus Booth Creates Companies
Lumber baron John Rudolphus Booth created the Canada Atlantic Railroad Company and during its short life it handled about 40 percent of the grain traffic from the Canadian west to the St. Lawrence River valley. In 1889, he established the Canada Atlantic Transit Company of the United States to operate between Depot Harbor and American ports like Chicago and Duluth, Minnesota.
In 1898 he set up the Canada Atlantic Transit Company to run steamships on the Great Lakes from Depot Harbor to what is now Thunder Bay, Ontario. In 1905, he sold all of these companies and the Canada Atlantic Railway to the Grand Trunk Railway which was later absorbed into the Canadian National Railroad. The American Company dissolved in 1948 and the Canadian Company in 1950. The Canada Atlantic Railroad also had its own ghost story that John Rudolphus Booth couldn’t squelch.
At Midnight on the Canada Atlantic Railroad Tracks
In the late autumn of 1888, when enough snow had fallen to record footprints, a farmer named Brunet walked along the Canada Atlantic Railway track about a half mile on the other side of the St. Scholastique station in Quebec, Canada. The late hour – about midnight – convinced farmer Brunet to walk the single track instead of walking through the inky, black woods, although he could barely make out the outline of the tracks as he trudged along through the darkness.
Imagination sees farmer Brunet trudging through the darkness shading his eyes to track the glow of lamplight from a distant farmhouse, possibly a lamp that his wife put in the window to light his way home. Imagination hears the train whistle, and the headlight fastens farmer Brunet in its fierce glare. He jumps off the track and the Ottawa Express whizzes by.
The real story goes that the Ottawa Express sped by, ran over farmer Brunet, and threw his body 100 feet into a clump of trees growing alongside the track. His body landed in separate pieces that scattered through the tree branches.
An Ottawa Express Engineer Talks Confidentially to the Montreal Correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat
Imagination has farmer Brunet’s family searching for his body and finally finding it scattered in the clump of trees growing alongside the Canada Atlantic Railroad tracks. They buried the parts of his body that they could recover and tried to go on with their lives. Farmer Brunet didn’t give up so easily. He determined to stop the train by waving a red signal lantern before it could hit him. Every night he stands beside the tracks swinging his red lantern as the Ottawa Express thunders toward him.
The real story goes that five engineers ran the Ottawa Express since that fateful autumn night in 1888 and every one of them asked for a transfer from the route. The last of the engineers asked for a transfer from the Ottawa Express in April of 1889, and he decided to tell his story in confidence to the Montreal Correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat.
The engineer said that he couldn’t stand running the Ottawa Express any longer and that he had requested a transfer. When the Canada Atlantic Railroad officials asked why the engineer wanted to transfer, he was too ashamed to reveal his reason, but he had a ghost story to tell.
According to the engineer, after he left St. Scholastique station, he opened the locomotive engine’s throttle wide because he had to make up time. He had just built up a good head of steam when he saw what looked like a red star floating in the air about a mile ahead of him. The red star grew larger as the Ottawa Express sped nearer and the engineer saw that the red star really was a red lantern. The red lantern swung so high in the air the engineer thought it had to be a signal.
The Red Lantern Hovers Where Farmer Brunet’s Body Landed
The engineer also noticed that the red lantern hovered over the clump of trees where farmer Brunet’s body had landed. As the Ottawa Express got within 200 yards of the trees, the red lantern seemed to jump across from the trees right over the track. All of this happened as quickly as it took the engineer to tell the Montreal Correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat the story.
The engineer was terrified. The light was unmistakably a signal lantern and it hung directly in the way of the train. He didn’t have time to alert the fireman before he was on top of it. Fearful that there was something wrong with the track, the engineer shut off the steam, put on the air brakes and stopped the train. George Welles, the conductor, ran forward and he and the engineer walked back down the track to investigate.
There was nothing wrong with the track. There wasn’t a house within half a mile of the place, and the men couldn’t see any footprints in the snow to show that anybody had been in the neighborhood. Up until this point, the engineer had never heard of the ghost, but he noticed that the conductor looked nervous, and the fireman looked scared.
The Same Red Lantern Flashes Two Nights Later
A walk a half mile ahead of the engine convinced the engineer that nothing was wrong with the track, so he started the train and arrived in Ottawa twenty-five minutes late. The engineer had expected that his bosses would ask him to account for his unscheduled stop, but they didn’t. Conductor Welles said no more to him about it. The engineer again made the trip the next morning and scrutinized the spot where he had seen the red signal lantern the night before. All he saw were trees and railroad track.
On his next trip, which was two nights later, the engineer saw the same red lantern. He had no doubt the lantern was supernatural and despite an inclination to ignore the ghostly warning and keep the train going, his hands mechanically turned off the steam and put on the air brakes.
Again, the conductor came forward and again the engineer explained what happened. Again they went on with their trip after failing to discover any reason for a red warning lantern.
The Engineer Asks to be Transferred from the Ottawa Express
The engineer discovered that four other engineers had seen the red lantern, but railroad officials convinced them to keep quiet about what they saw because they were afraid that a farmer Brunet ghost story would ruin passenger business.
The engineer decided to ask for a transfer and to speak out about what he saw because he believed it might be an omen of a railroad catastrophe to come. Two of the engineers who had given up the Ottawa run because of the ghost, Alexander Swindon and James Roberts, corroborated the engineer’s story.
Lumber Baron John Rudolphus Booth Couldn’t Stop the Ghost Story
The inhabitants in and around St. Scholastique soon heard the story of the red lantern and crowds of brave people went to the clump of trees where the lantern appeared. The Canada Atlantic Railroad couldn’t keep the story quiet.
The Canada Atlantic Railroad Hires Detectives
At first, John Rudolphus Booth and his employees believed that the story of Brunet’s red ghost lantern was a hoax. The Canada Atlantic Railroad hired detectives who crouched by the side of the track all night and hid in the clump of trees. Despite their efforts, the red lantern shone, and the trains stopped, but the detectives couldn’t find any human hand holding the red lantern.
Next, the Canada Atlantic bought the trees and put men to work cutting them down to see if that had any effect on the ghostly signal man and his lantern. The lack of trees didn’t stop the ghost.
The clump of trees where farmer Brunet landed, John Rudolphus Booth, and his Canada Atlantic Railway have all passed into history, but local tradition says that the red lantern still signals a phantom Ottawa Express to a stop and the perplexed engineer and conductor can still be seen searching the track for danger.
- Bell, Allan, A Way to the West. Barrie, Ontario, Privately Published, 1991
- LLC, Passenger Rail Transport in Quebec: LLC, Atlantic, the Canadian Adirondack, Ocean, Chaleur, Corridor, Seguenay, LLC, 2010
- LLC, Quebec Railways: Canadian Pacific Railway, Amtrak, Canadian National Railway, St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, CSX Transportation, Books LLC, 2010
- Pennington, Myles, Railways and Other Ways: Being Reminiscences of Canal and Railway Life During a Period of Sixty-Seven Years; With Characteristic Sketches of Canal and. Telegraph and Atlantic Cable, Cornell University Library, 2001
- Brooklyn Eagle, April 14, 1889
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