By Rebecca Murray
In recent years, large-scale railway derailments and collisions have caught our attention and have become questions of public safety, but this is not a new chapter in Canadian transportation history. Rail accidents dot the history of railways in Canada and have shaped the lives of many Canadians.
Have you witnessed a railway accident? Was a family member or friend involved in a railway accident? Do you have an interest in railway history in a specific region or for a specific railway company? These are just some of the many reasons that researchers consult Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Reference Services regarding railway accident records.
Starting your railway accident research
First, gather as much information as you can about the rail accident prior to contacting or visiting LAC. The exact date and location are extremely important, as are details such as individuals involved and if possible, type of accident (e.g. public crossing, derailment, crash). If you are missing some of these details, consult newspapers on microfilm or online before undertaking your search with LAC’s online tools. Accident records are usually organized chronologically by date, so the date is key for you to start your research with the correct institution.
LAC holds rail accident records for investigations that began in 1990 or earlier, whereas the Transportation Safety Board maintains an online database for investigations from 1991 to the present.
Records at LAC
Railway accident records can be found in various series of the Canadian Transport Commission fonds (RG46) depending on the time period and type of accident.
I suggest relying on the following search strategies and finding aids to begin your research:
|Finding Aid #||Format||Time Period||How to Use the Finding Aid|
|46-21||Collection Search||1838–1987||Use the following search string to generate a file list: RG46-C-II-1 46-21 accident. Limit the results to the Archives tab and then filter by date or add a location keyword, i.e. Toronto.|
|46-10||Online Finding Aid 46-10||1904–1949, 1964–1972||The finding aid is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by railway company. Each report varies in content, but often references accidents.|
|46-55||Online Finding Aid 46-55||1900–1992||Accidents at public crossings arranged alphabetically by geographic subdivision|
|46-58||Online Finding Aid 46-58||1982–1983||Chronological|
|46-59||Online Finding Aid 46-59||1984||Chronological|
There are also additional resources online and onsite at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. You can use Collection Search to do general keyword searches with terms like “rail” AND “accident” (or “derailment” or “collision”) and use the left menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.
If you follow the steps described above and still can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t despair! Reference Services staff are always just a call or click away. You are also welcome to visit in person. No matter how you contact us, we are happy to help researchers with their questions.
Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.