The Tunnel Tragedies

18 Aug

Some are familiar with the Macdiarmid or Jumbo’s Cove Tunnel, which lies north of Nipigon, ON near the communities of Macdiarmid/Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek. At 1058 feet long, the former railway tunnel is one of the largest in eastern Canada and was in use from 1915 to 2005. The tunnel unfortunately has a very tragic history, the details of which have only recently been pieced together.

It is unknown when construction of the tunnel began, but the latter part of 1911 seems logical as work was underway in January 1912. At least two separate subcontractors were involved; Nimmo & Flatt and Chambers, McColman & Harrison. During the second half of January, accidents claimed the lives of three labourers sadly.

The first incident occurred on January 16th. A group of men led by John Ranta (Juho Kiviranta) were setting additional blasting charges after several previous ones did not ignite properly. Unfortunately, one of the earlier explosives detonated; Ranta and Oscar Hendrickson (Oskari Suosalo) took the full brunt of the blast. Their injuries can be described as nothing less than horrific. With no nearby relatives claim the bodies, the men were interred nearby in a common grave with a single headstone.

Two weeks tragedy befell the construction again. In an era before proper protective equipment, a loose piece of rock fell and struck 35-year-old Peter Rice in the head, killing him instantly. His body had to be held at the camp hospital while next of kin were notified, so it took until the end of February before his remains could be moved to Duluth, Minnesota for burial.

Many thanks to all those who helped with this important piece of local history.

Gordon Laird

Karen Johnson-Sheppard

Jerry Adams

Harold Alanen

Nipigon Museum

Michael deJong & Thunder Bay Museum

For more information on the tunnel and the incidents, please the follow page: Macdiarmid Tunnel

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Posted by on August 18, 2022 in Hiking, History, Railway


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