The following historical information was written and provided by John Savoie titled “The Blue Ghost Tunnel Making of a Legend”.
“The Niagara Region of Ontario was beginning to see growth and prosperity in the late 1800s and in 1871 the Dominion of Parliament authorized the second phase of the Welland Canal to be built to suit large cargo and passenger ships.
The work commenced in 1873 and the new route now bypassed its traditional route in the natural river valleys next to St. Catharines. The new canal was aligned on a direct route from Port Dalhousie to Thorold, which necessitated a new rail crossing. The railway would not accept the early plans for a swing bridge over the canal as they anticipated long delays and the potential for danger and accidents and therefore they insisted that a tunnel be built under the waterway to ensure safe and efficient passage of rail traffic. It was a grand proposition and many were opposed to the idea as it would take a great deal of engineering and hard labor.
Previously, a log-built Lutheran Church resided on the consecrated land and burials as early as 1752 had taken place within the churchyard. As the land was being surveyed and construction crews hired from nearby Slabtown (Merritton), the cemetery and church were spared, but future plans insisted that the land be used for the canal. Meanwhile the canal developers and railway companies came to agreement of where the tunnel would be constructed and work began in the spring of 1875 with loads of Queenston rock being cut and delivered to the construction yard. Several hundred workers labored on the stone cutting and fitting while Irish immigrants, numbering near a thousand, entrenched the land and tunnel area. Teams of horses brought heavy limestone from the Queenston Quarry to the site. There were several serious accidents at the construction site, including three reported deaths. In one report from 1875 a young Irish immigrant, aged 14, was crushed under the weight of the large stones. Other injuries occurred on a daily basis, but none serious enough to stop construction.
The tunnel curving on a gentle arc is 665 feet in length providing a semi-circular arch 16 feet wide and 18 feet high. A single track ran its length connecting lines of the Great Western Railway. The railway, now connected with points in the Niagara Region, could express cargo and passengers from New York to Toronto and almost all points in between. During this time the Welland Canal construction was completed and several men perished building its walls and reinforced lock system. Many of the injuries and deaths occurred in the Thorold area, within miles of the tunnel. The first train, loaded with dignitaries and engineered by Harry Eastman, ran through the tunnel in February 1881. Harry Eastman was also the last Engineer to blow the whistle and pilot a train through the tunnel. To prevent cows and other grazing animals from entering the tunnel and causing a derailment, a post-guard was set up on each side of the tunnel. These men watched the rail, chased away animals and kept the track clear. Their wages were extremely low and they were often paid in pints of ale as well as wages.
Charles Horning, the fireman on the express train, was killed instantly when his body was pinned between two massive pieces of ironwork, the flaming hot boiler and the tender. Attempting rescue, his badly mangled body was pulled on by engineers and post-guards, however, when they pulled at him, his arms and legs pulled from his body. One train worker commented that Horning's watch still ticked while he held the severed arm in his hands. His body was never fully recovered from the wreck. The fireman for the mogul train, Abraham Desult, was smashed into the boiler of the train. He was rushed to hospital only to die of his terrible burns five hours later. Mr. Armstrong worked in the express car that followed the engine of the Number 5 and regained consciousness in the roofless, upturned car.
Covered in ruined goods he managed to crawl through the rubble to safety. He recalls that they were given clearance in Merritton by the dispatcher to enter the line and blamed the wreck on misinformation, a single track and poor visibility.
The line and the tunnel, however, were continuously used until plans for a double-track were developed. The track was returned to its original alignment when the Fourth Welland Canal was being constructed. A double-tracked swing bridge was built in the late 1880s and the tunnel was used sparingly until the 1930s when the track was removed altogether.”
Location ID #BR0089