Setting the story straight on Whistler's train wreck

Train Wreck - the site of several abandoned box cars just south of Function Junction - was always a little bit of a mystery to the museum.

We knew it had been there since the '50s, but apart from that we knew very little about it. In 2013, I wrote an article in this column about the "mysterious" train wreck and was subsequently approached by two members of the Valleau family (who ran a big logging operation in Mons at the time of the accident) who have set the record straight once and for all.

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The first to approach me, Rick Valleau, remembers his father talking about the train wreck. The second, Rick's uncle Howard Valleau, actually remembers the incident first-hand!

As one of the museum's most commonly asked questions is about train wreck we are delighted to have these accounts, which shed so much light on one of Whistler's most iconic sites.

Here, finally, is the definitive guide to Train Wreck: The crash occurred in 1956 shortly after the Valleau family had moved to the area. The wreck happened in a rock cut and there were three boxcars loaded with lumber jammed in there, blocking the line. The PGE railway equipment wouldn't budge them so the company approached the Valleau family.

The Valleaus took their logging machinery (a couple of D8 Cats) down to the site, put a hitch (luff) on with two moving blocks to the boxcar and pried them out. They then dragged the cars up the track and into the forest, where they lie today. To all those who were confused by the fact that there is no damage to the trees around the wreck, this is because the train did not come off the rails at this point, but the boxcars were moved there after the fact.

The train was assembled in Lillooet by John Millar, conductor of that train. Millar told the story to Howard Valleau, asfollows:The train had four engines. There was a mistake made on the tonnageof the train, making it too heavyand they had to split the train to get up the grade to Parkhurst (on Green Lake); and by doing that they were put behind schedule. Because of this, they were trying to make up time by speedingthrough an area under repair on the tracks. The speed limit was only 15 mph (24 km/h). The fourth engine turned a rail, causing the train wreck. They checked the tape in the engine, which told how fast they were going - the crew had thought the speed was 15mph, but in fact it was 35 mph (56 km/h).

Millar told Howard Valleau that had they known the actual speed, they would have taken the tapes out. The engineer and crew were subsequently fired after the investigation into the wreck.

Thank you so much to Rick and Howard Valleau for setting the train wreck mystery straight, once and for all.

Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum.

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