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Published on: October 12, 2016 | Last Updated: October 12, 2016 7:54 PM EDT
Among the 11 male victims, some burned beyond recognition, was Henry “Scotty” Caldwell, a native of Paisley, Scotland, who was 46 and a father of three boys, then between the ages of eight and 20.
“He was just entering the prime of his life,” said his oldest son, Brian Caldwell, now 70.
The night of the explosion, which shattered windows in the area and was heard for miles around, Brian Caldwell was sound asleep at his parent’s home in Montreal North.
“I remember my mother waking me up. We spent the rest of the night up listening to the radio for reports.”
Although listed among the dead in newspaper reports, it wasn’t till several days later that Henry Caldwell was officially identified.
Brian Caldwell, who accompanied his mother and a cousin to the morgue, said an accurate identification was difficult due to the badly burned condition of the corpse.
“There was nothing really to identify anyway … . There was just a hunk of charred meat,” he said.
To this day, Caldwell is not even sure it was his father’s remains he saw.
“It was mostly a process of elimination. The other families went in first, and then us. To this day I believe we just picked somebody. I couldn’t be 100 per cent certain.”
Caldwell was in a haze at his father’s funeral, but he took some solace after his father’s co-workers told him his father had died heroically.
According to their accounts, Scotty Caldwell was among a group of workers who re-entered the plant that fateful night in a bid to rescue others after the initial blast.
“We understood that he got out, but had gone back in to see about getting someone else out, and it went off. We never got confirmation but that was the story that was told … that Scotty went back in.”
Indeed, an eyewitness to the tragic act of heroism was quoted in a front page article of the Oct. 15, 1966, edition of The Gazette. “We never saw them again,” the eyewitness said. “I had to tell someone how brave they were.”
A coroner’s jury later ruled the blast — caused by a spark that ignited polystyrene gas — was accidental.
Caldwell said his father’s death had a shattering affect on his bother Colin, who was eight years old at the time.
“Colin had a real hard time with it. I know my mother had to take him to a psychologist for a while. He was close to my Dad.”
As for financial compensation, Caldwell said his mother, Winifred, received a pittance following her husband’s death. “If I recall right, we got his two weeks salary and that was about it.”
The sudden loss of the family patriarch and bread-winner also meant that Caldwell’s mother had to find a job to support the family. She found work “packing” at a Zeller’s warehouse.
Brian also helped with the bills and became a kind of father figure to his youngest brother. But Colin Caldwell suffered another traumatic life experience as a cadet in 1974 when a grenade exploded during a training lesson at the Canadian army base in Valcartier. Six teenaged boys were killed and dozens more injured.
Colin survived the grenade blast, but suffered from hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder, said Brian Caldwell. “My mother was just devastated after that,” he added.
Alex Kouzouloglou was only nine when his father Panagiotis Kouzouloglou, a 33-year-old maintenance worker at Monsanto, was killed in the 1966 blast.
Alex visited the plant with his father the night before the explosion, and remembers the smell of chemicals permeated the air. His father’s death was devastating for the family, which included his two-month old brother Peter.
“It was horrible,” said Alex, 59, who lives in New York now. “My father had come from Greece just two years earlier to start a new life for us.”
In a twist of fate, one of Alex’s sons, Andreas Peter, was born on Oct. 13, 1997. “I prefer to celebrate my son’s birthday and not my father’s death on Oct. 13th,” Alex said.
While many Montrealers recall the 1965 natural gas explosion at the LaSalle Heights apartment block that claimed 28 lives, Caldwell said the Monsanto victims and their families fell between the cracks.
“We never even got an invite to the Monsanto Christmas party after the explosion,” he said. “None of the families did. We were sort of forgotten.”
Last year, the borough of LaSalle held a public exhibit and erected a plaque to commemorate the victims on the 50th anniversary of the tragic LaSalle Heights explosion. But there are no plans to do the same for victims of the Monsanto tragedy.
Brian Caldwell and Alex Kouzouloglou both said they would like to see a commemorative plaque erected on the site of the former Monsanto plant, with the names of the 11 explosion victims.
“They do it everywhere else,” said Caldwell. “Why not for that?”
The métro at 50: A trip through the past of Montreal transit
MARIAN SCOTT, MONTREAL GAZETTE
More from Marian Scott, Montreal Gazette
Published on: October 10, 2016 | Last Updated: October 10, 2016 4:57 PM EDT
Second of a four-part series
Noisy demonstrations by taxi drivers protesting against a new form of transit are nothing new.
In 1861, drivers of horse-drawn cabs staged violent protests against Montreal’s first streetcars — hurling stones, smashing windows, tearing up streetcar rails, blocking tracks and attacking horses that pulled the trams.
Just like today’s cabbies opposing Uber, they feared the new means of transportation would make them obsolete.
It was just the start of 155 years of controversy over the best way to get across town.
Montreal’s transit history is a saga of wily monopolists, machine politicians and public-spirited reformers.
It’s the story of how steel rails transformed the city from a compact settlement in Old Montreal and its immediate environs to a far-reaching patchwork of streetcar suburbs like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Outremont, Mile End, Villeray, Rosemont, Cartierville and Snowdon.
It’s fading memories of bone-rattling rides on hard wicker seats, of sparks flying from overhead wires and rows of tracks in the middle of Ste-Catherine St.
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley/ Ding, ding, ding went the bell,” as Judy Garland sang in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis.
Today we tend to view streetcars through the rosy lens of nostalgia. We forget that Montrealers complained vociferously about them, and that the streetcar era was bookended by violent protest, from the cabbies’ protest in 1861 to the streetcar riot of 1955.
On Dec. 10 that year, a student demonstration against a fare increase escalated into an orgy of destruction that damaged 200 trams and buses and paralyzed downtown. It was “worse than the Forum riot” of March 17, 1955, when fans went on a rampage to protest the suspension of Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice Richard, the Gazette reported.
Four years later, the city’s last streetcar headed for the scrapyard.
While the trams of yesteryear tug at our heartstrings, a trip back through transit history leads to an inescapable conclusion: Montrealers have never had it so good. The opening of the métro in 1966marked an enormous leap forward in the speed and comfort of urban transit.
“There is no other means of transportation that moves so many people as quickly and well,” said Benoît Clairoux, a historian at the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) and author of Le Métro de Montréal: 35 ans déjà (Hurtubise, 2001).
“And in our climate, if you’re going to build a métro, you might as well build it underground,” he added.
* * *
Taking the tram was a casual affair when Montreal City Passenger Railway Company began horse car service on Notre Dame and Craig Sts. (now St-Antoine) in 1861.
If a passenger wanted to get off for a few minutes to run a quick errand, the driver would wait. Unscheduled stops were only banned in 1865.
In summer, customers rode in open cars with striped awnings on the sides. In winter, sleighs replaced cars, with straw on the floor and horse blankets for warmth.
Complaints of overcrowding poured in from the start, with as many as 70 passengers packed into cars designed for 28.
The privately owned company “had dealt meanly, unjustly and graspingly with the citizens all along,” an alderman complained to city council in 1880.
Electrification of the tramway in 1892 speeded up service and doubled annual ridership in two years to 20 million trips.
The tramway company was controlled by financiers like Senator Louis-Joseph Forget, who also held a monopoly on the city’s gas and electrical utilities.
Another associate in both ventures was Herbert Holt, a ruthless business magnate who was reportedly Canada’s richest man at his death in 1941. When the death of Sir Herbert, knighted in 1915, was announced at a Montreal Royals baseball game, the crowd broke out in cheers.
Reformers at city hall — a group dominated by English-speaking business leaders — accused the streetcar company of gouging the city. They charged populist politicians like Mayor Raymond Préfontaine with taking kickbacks from the company in return for favours.
A street and métro station on the Green Line are named after Préfontaine.
But efforts to root out vested interests and bring the tramway company under municipal control failed.
In 1911, the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC) bought out all its competitors, creating a monopoly on the island of Montreal.
As the populations of industrial neighbourhoods like St-Henri and Hochelaga boomed, the proportion of Montreal workers who took the streetcar daily rose from 11 per cent in 1892 to 63 per cent in 1911.
Streetcar lines fanned out across the island, to St-Laurent, Cartierville, Pointe-aux-Trembles and Lachine.
“Streetcar tracks were built through empty fields because the tramway owners were also in the business of selling land. Many districts of Montreal were developed in connection with the tramway,” Clairoux said.
Despite criticisms of the tramway monopoly, Clairoux said the MTC was well run. “You could say that the tramway company was for a long time a very good company in Montreal, a company that was at the forefront,” he said.
The Golden Chariot, of which the first was built in 1905, was a popular sightseeing car that took passengers on a loop around the three peaks of Mount Royal.
At its height in the early 1920s, the tramway network comprised 500 kilometres of track, carrying nearly 230 million passengers a year. In 1925, the MTC opened a huge terminus on Craig St. at St. Urbain. The monumental stone building was demolished in 1970.
The first buses appeared on Bridge St. in 1919 but did not begin to rival tramways on major routes until the late 1930s.
During the Second World War, high ridership and rationing of gasoline and tires gave streetcars a new lease on life. Every available tram — even former sightseeing cars — was called into service. In 1947, ridership peaked at 398 million.
“But it was the swan song for the Montreal Tramways because for quite a while, the company had not invested (in streetcars) and they had very few new vehicles,” Clairoux said.
While Toronto had taken over its streetcar network in 1921, Montreal did not bring public transit under municipal control until 1951, after a provincial commission on urban transportation.
By the time the Montreal Transportation Commission took over the tramway company, its rolling stock was antiquated and worn out. Increasingly, trams were blamed for blocking traffic. From 1945 to 1951, car ownership on the island of Montreal doubled to 13.2 vehicles per 100 people. Rates in U.S. cities were twice as high.
“People felt the streetcars were in the way because they ran in the middle of the road, while buses kept to the side,” Clairoux said.
The newly formed MTC set about retiring streetcars and buying buses — a process that would take eight years.
It also called for construction of a subway.
“With the municipal takeover, they replaced streetcars with buses but they knew a métro was needed. It was clear because Montreal was a large city, with more than a million inhabitants,” Clairoux said.
Plans for a subway had been around since the early 20th century.
As far back as 1910, a promoter had proposed “a perfect subway” that would “revolutionize the transportation facilities of Montreal and the suburbs.”
But the project had repeatedly been put on hold.
Only with the election of Mayor Jean Drapeau and his right-hand man, Lucien Saulnier, in 1960 would the dream of a métro for Montreal finally be realized.
Timeline of public transit in Montreal
Nov. 27, 1861: The Montreal City Passenger Railway Company inaugurates horse-drawn tramway service on Notre Dame St. in Old Montreal.
1886: The company becomes the Montreal Street Railway Company (MSRC).
September 21, 1892: The first electric tram — “the Rocket” — goes into service. Within two years, the whole network is electrically powered.
April 1910: The Montreal Street Railway Company proposes a subway project to pre-empt a proposal by a rival company, the Montreal Underground and Elevated Railway Company. Several other subway plans are tabled in the decades that follow but all remain on the drawing board.
1910: Annual ridership reaches 100 million.
1911: The company becomes the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC) and acquires all of the other transit companies on the Island of Montreal.
Nov. 22, 1919: Montreal’s first buses go into service on Bridge St. In 1925, the MTC creates a bus division and launches new routes — with 155 buses in circulation by 1931.
Early 1920s: Montreal’s tramway network comprises over 500 kilometres of track and carries nearly 230 million passengers a year.
1947: MTC ridership peaks at 398,349,773. That number will not be matched until 2011.
June 16, 1951: The Montreal Transport Commission, a public body, acquires the assets of the privately owned Montreal Tramways Company.
1953: The new MTC proposes construction of a $117-million 12.5-km subway, but the project is not implemented.
Oct. 24, 1960: The election of Mayor Jean Drapeau and executive committee chairman Lucien Saulnier finally brings the 50-year dream of a subway for Montreal within reach.
Oct. 20, 1961: The city unveils a $150-million plan for a métro running from Atwater Ave. to Frontenac St. and from Crémazie Blvd. to Bonaventure station via Place d’Armes. It also proposes a north-south line from Old Montreal that would go through the railway tunnel under Mount Royal and branch off to Cartierville and Montreal North. The last line will later be eliminated.
April 1962: The city awards the first contracts. On May 23, construction starts on Berri St., south of Jarry St.
May 5, 1962: Montreal is awarded the 1967 World’s Fair. As a result, the line through Mount Royal is eliminated and a new line to Île-Ste-Hélène and Longueuil is added.
1963: Canadian Vickers wins the contract to build 369 MR-63 métro cars. It delivers the first cars on Aug. 24, 1965. They are still running on the Green Line. The cost of the project increases to $213 million, mainly due to the addition of Line 4 (yellow).
Oct. 14, 1966: The métro’s first 20 stations open. A million passengers try out the métro on its first weekend.
Spring 1967: The initial 26-station network is completed in time for Expo 67. Passengers take over 130 million trips in its first year.
Oct. 14, 1971: Work starts on métro extensions. The Green Line is extended from Angrignon to Honoré-Beaugrand stations by 1978, while the Orange Line is extended to Côte Vertu station from 1980 to 1986. The much-delayed Blue Line is built between 1986 and 1988.
April 28, 2007: The métro is extended to Laval, at a cost of $745 million. Cartier, de la Concorde and Montmorency are the first universally accessible stations.
Feb. 7, 2016: The AZUR model, the first new trains ordered for the métro in more than three decades, makes its first run on the Orange Line. It will replace all the original MR-63 trains by 2018.