By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
It was a Christmas Grafton will never forget – a derailment just east of the Station Road tracks sent 14 cars and one locomotive off the tracks, blocking a rail line on that key Toronto-Montreal corridor and, incidentally, shutting off Station Road south of the tracks to an area where many people live.
On Boxing Day, CN Manager of Public Affairs for Ontario and Atlantic Canada Daniel Salvatore reported progress was already being made, and added the company’s recognition and thanks for the support of local first responders.
On Feb. 27, he visited in person to say thank-you in a more tangible way – a $10,000 donation for the Alnwick-Haldimand Township Fire Department.
Salvatore also brought along tangible thanks for a few members of the community whose help and support made a real difference to more than 100 CN workers and third-party contractors struggling to get things back on track – The Lass & Ladle owner Terry Carruthers, Esso station owner Paul Singh as well as Matthew Pilon and Rachel Dezan, a couple who lived close to the tracks and ferried hot coffee back and forth to busy crews working in bitter weather.
That thank-you consisted of a gift bag of what he termed CN “trinkets,” with his business card clipped to the side so that they could get in touch with him – because the second part of the gift was a $500 donation to the charity of their choice.
Singh, whose business also houses Grafton Pizza and a small convenience store, had been in India when the storm hit, but he accepted the gift on behalf of his family members who did make sure that the business stayed open.
Carruthers was able to attend the official ceremony at the Grafton firehall, joining Mayor John Logel, Deputy Mayor Joan Stover, Councillors Mike Ainsworth, Greg Booth and Mary Catherine O’Neill, as well as members of the fire department – Chief Dave Dawson, Deputy Chiefs Rob Gourd and Allan Sheppard, Captain Allan Carruthers and Acting Captain Matt Dickison.
It was Chief Dawson who had spoken with Today’s Northumberland when the story broke. He said they got the call at 11:45 a.m. Christmas Eve morning. The train went off the track due to a switch malfunction. As Dawson put it, it sort of rubbed shoulders with a stationary train, and the pile-up resulted – fortunately, with all cars upright and carrying nothing more dangerous than food-source organics.
Dawson related how they located a couple of engineers and conductors, and took them into the fire trucks for warmth. From that point on, the community got behind the effort in a big way.
Welcoming Salvatore and CN General Manager of Operations Clarke Trolley, Logel said, “All this is as a result of the storm from – I don’t know, but it was a unique one. We were just about through the worst but, when the train derailed, I’ll never forget.
“Our CEO said, ‘I don’t know why somebody would tell me something like that, but I believe it.’”
The fury of the storm and the timing of the derailment make the support of the community all the more amazing, Salvatore said. At a time when they may have preferred to shutter their storefronts and go home – as all businesses generally do over the Christmas holidays – these establishments went above and beyond and stayed open as long as they were needed.
“The genuine response from the community to the kerfuffle that we caused during the Christmas season – extended hours, making sandwiches, bringing coffee – we don’t want it to go unnoticed,” he said.
And that donation to the fire department was “because we are partners. We rely on first responders when things like this happen.”
“We are truly appreciative of what everybody did, especially given the time of year,” Trolley added.
He recalled the Christmas Eve arrival of 28 pizzas for the workers. He recalled Carruthers telling them they could take whatever they needed.
“It was not an easy time for anybody, and what you have done here is very special,” he stated.
“We just did it because we could,” Carruthers said.
“We would not have been able to do at The Lass & Ladle what we did if it were not for members of the community. People dropped off cots, people dropped off blankets, air mattresses and pillows.”
When the need for an air-mattress pump arose, she added, they just put a notice on Facebook and someone came through.
Stover recalled dropping in to see how she was doing, and found her preparing to make 35 breakfast sandwiches.
“By Day Three, we were pretty much out of all our produce, and then a couple from the lakeshore went to Foodland and showed up with lettuce and tomatoes,” Carruthers said.
“Ste. Anne’s brought us ground beef and potatoes. It’s a great community to be in.”
The railroad crews were not the only ones Carruthers was sheltering, feeding and otherwise caring for. Seeing the open business like a beacon in a white-out, a number of others gravitated to her door – Hydro One workers, road crews, stranded motorists, “whoever needed us,” she summed up.
“It was amazing to be part of it and, for me, an opportunity to help – because I am a Maritimer, and we don’t do well in a crisis unless we are able to do something.”
She recalled the whooping gust of wind when someone entered her side door and told her, “You have saved lives by being open.”
And for one of her volunteers, something good came out of it all. He worked so hard that he ended up being hired.
Sometime during those busy days, Carruthers found time to write her own version of events based on ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. She had it printed off on good parchment paper, signed it and presented it as her own gift to the CN representatives.
‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all thru the town,
Not a tree was safe standing
A lot had blown down.
The arrival of Abby & Jen from CN
Meant cleanup on the derail would finally begin.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of winter chaos still danced in our heads
While I in my apron and my firefighter in his hat
Had just snuggled in for a two-hour nap
When down at the Lass there was a flurry of chatter
As the Rail crews arrived and in need of food platters.
Away to the restaurant I flew like a flash
Threw open the doors and dug into my stash.
The lights on the breast of the new fallen snow
Gave luster to brave little Grafton below
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a hydro crew too with a big ton of gear
With a gracious young driver so young and so quick
I knew in a moment the roads must be slick!
More rapid than eagles his team did descend,
I knew they meant business when this storm it did end
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name.
“Now Alex, now Brodie, now Nathan, now Stan
And Ryan and Curtis and Steven and Dan
Now climbers and road crew and restorers of power
With those who respond to the urgencies each hour
To the top of the poles when they all get that call
To the north of the village with snow like a wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the pole tops the crew they then flew,
With a belt full of tools – and their radios too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard at the door
The arrival of CN to deal with some more.
As I drew in a breath and was turning around
The community arrived from all over the town.
There were pillows and linens and blankets galore
There were mattresses, cots and a whole lot more.
The compassion and kindness poured out like a river
The love of community made me shake with a shiver
For as bad as the weather had daunted each plan
It was obvious here that we all took a stand.
This hamlet chose kindness and caring and love
And dare I say that a touch came from above
And as bad as it seemed when all hydro was lost
That we cared for the strangers no matter the cost
And we fed them and clothed them and helped find them rest
And learned simple compassion was by far the best.
To the fire and police and ambulance our sincerest thanks
For in my books it really is high in the ranks
To run into danger when most run away
And in the worst situations still decide to stay
People came for the warmth and the gas and the food
And a smiling face could make change to the mood
For no matter the person who needed our aid
From the Grafton Inn, Esso or Lass it was made
As the last of the stranded were tucked in their beds
Our town made them comfortable, warm and all fed
Against wind tonight still we make windows all tight…
Merry Christmas to all…and to all a good night