Saturday, June 21, 2014

Diefenbaker Funeral Train

When Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker died on August 16, 1979, his funeral arrangements were already made. Dief was the Chief, and the chief organizer of his funeral, which would include a particularly memorable funeral train. The train departed Ottawa on August 19 as Second No 1 Eng 6526. The photo by Toronto Star photographer Bob Olsen (above), taken on August 21, 1979 of the George Janzen family paying their respects while swathing near Rosthern, SK was judged as one of 100 Photos that Changed Canada, in a book by the same name. With hats off, they bade farewell to the Chief, as that mournful whistle echoed across the fields of grain. Born in Neustadt, Ontario in 1895, the Diefenbaker family moved west to Saskatchewan in 1903. The funeral train would make the same westward pilgrimage - Dief was considered the only Canadian from Saskatchewan ever to become Prime Minister. Diefenbaker's body lay in the Parliament buildings' Hall of Honour for three days. A state funeral took place on Sunday. 
Bruce Chapman kindly shared some photos at Ottawa in a subsequent post. At Ottawa station, the casket was loaded onto baggage car 9601. Notice how the Red Ensign is overlaying the Maple Leaf flag. Dief meticulously planned his own funeral, though MP Jean Pigott was in charge of some of the arrangements. Apparently one of these was the loading of spirits from an LCBO truck. This took one hour, and was finished well before departure and (mostly) out of the public eye. It would prove to be an intriguing trip. The funeral train waits at Ottawa Station behind VIA 6526-6636-1410-9601 (bearing the casket)-CN business car North Wind-CN business car 5 (assigned to the federal government)-four VIA cars tailed by E-series sleeper Elizabeth. Watch the train depart Ottawa at the 8:45 mark of this Dief documentary.
Aboard the train were 84 passengers including an official party, family, friends, security staff and 38 journalists. Ceremonial hour-long stops to view the closed coffin had been planned for Sudbury, Winnipeg and Prince Albert but as the train moved west it was greeted everywhere by crowds along the tracks, and additional stops were added on the way, at Kenora, Melville, and Watrous. At Winnipeg, 10,000 people waited until after midnight. Aboard the train, disputes over the powers of the executors and a secret trust fund emerged in what Geoffrey Stevens described as a "seething conspiracy which floated across the Prairies on a cloud of alcohol." Bruce Chapman kindly shared some Bill Crago photos of the freshly-washed 6526 leading the train on CP rails at Pembroke, ON:

Other notable Canadian funeral trains were operated for former Prime Ministers Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891, William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1950, and Pierre Trudeau in 2000. Bryan  Martyniuk was in the sizeable crowd at Thunder Bay's CP station:
Notice the change in motive power? At North Bay, the A-B-A power had been turned. CP 8598 was added and the CN units were on idle. Despite the presence of a train rider, it was decided to remove the ex-CN units at Sudbury. The power changed yet again, with two CP roadswitchers added, becoming: 1410-CP 8477-CP 8572. At CP's motive power bureau, Bruce Chapman had scrambled to get these two additional units on CP freight No 481 to Sudbury in order to replace the failing CN units. Bruce mentioned that with the absence of CP turning facilities at North Bay, CN or Ontario Northland may have obliged, given the importance and very public nature of this train.
MP Deborah Grey wrote that Dief  "..was a legend in the West. Average folks could pay their own respects, in their own fields, as Diefenbaker's funeral train slowly made its way across the Prairies. Many Westerners would remember that scene for the rest of their lives. Diefenbaker was coming home, and for many, it was like having their own private audience with the man who had been their leader. How fitting it was that he was coming home at the height of harvest." The City of Thunder bay wreath rests in front of the casket. The crowd is also shown at the 10:50 mark of this Dief documentary. Mounties stand guard as the crowd files by.
Grey continues, "As the train grew closer, we all grew quiet; we know something powerful was happening. The train slowly passed by. The mood was sombre. This was the last ride for a Canadian hero and we had a front-row seat. Besides, there was no way during harvest we could get away to Saskatoon for his funeral. Besides, the place would be packed."

"Two nights and two days across three provinces in a train that became an isolated world of memory and compressed emotion, wrote the Globe and Mail's Joan Hollobon. "Workmen holding hard hats in their hands as the train went by. Old men standing at attention. Women waving. Young people." A boy who may or may not have known about Dief, but who will likely remember this day, waves at officials between 9601 and North Wind. North Wind is now private car PPCX 15112.
Mark Perry remembers the new power CN added at Winnipeg for the trip into Saskatchewan: F7Au's 9154-9150. He washed the units at the Symington diesel shop! Brian Schuff recalled that CN business car 92 was added at Winnipeg. In Prince Albert, as the train pulled in on Tuesday afternoon, several thousand citizens filled the station square behind a guard of honour of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. From Prince Albert the funeral train moved slowly down the familiar railway line. the population of farms, villages and towns spread out in quiet honour along the right-of-way, waving, smiling, crying, saying goodbye for the last time in what had become a long festival of national communion. At Saskatoon, there was more ceremony during a lying-in-state and burial on a hilltop above the South Saskatchewan River.

Thanks to Bruce Chapman, Bill Crago, Doug Phillips, Bryan Martyniuk, Mark Perry and Brian Schuff for their kind assistance. A series of photos (top two colour photos and below) from SAIN, the Saskatchewan Archives Information Network. These photos may have been used for the funeral wall collage, opening display at the Diefenbaker Centre, University of Saskatchewan. 

On August 15, 1994 on the fifteenth anniversary of Dief's death, a reunion for almost two hundred people with links to Diefenbaker's last journey reunited in the Railway Committee Room of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings: senators and MPs from all parties, Joe Clark, Ed Schreyer, and some of the RCMP officers who had hoisted the coffin onto and off the train in 1979. The evening was hosted by the state funeral directors, Hulse, Playfair & McGarry. Now to close - a different train. This 1959 photo shows Dief campaigning from the steps of a CN business car:


Zartok-35 said...

Just goes to show that any and all passenger trains going through Sudbury inevitably get RS10s added to the consist there! I'm surprised they didn't also add a GP9, as was custom on most 'Canadians' at the time. Did Mr. Chapman manage all the incredibly consistent power assignments out of Sudbury then? If so, we should name the FP7/FP9-RS10-GP9 brace after him!

I never had a chance to be presided by Dief the chief, but his name is on allot of things here on the home front. That famous picture of the funeral train is hanging on a wall at the Dief center, which I've been to a few times. Right outside the washroom, infact.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Great post as always Eric, but as an Easterner, army brat and plane fan, "Diefenbaker" is pretty much a curse word for me. He will always be the man who gutted the Canadian military and cancelled the Arrow. :P

Eric said...

Thanks very much for your comments, Elijah and Steve. It is interesting to know years later that Bruce was having 'a hand in history' not to mention the last MLW Century locomotive consists he arranged years later.

Elijah, you'll have to snap a photo of that Dief Centre funeral train wall photo for me sometime, to complete this loop!

Steve, I know that as a politician, Dief had some unpopular policies. But he sure had an intriguing funeral train for railfans to learn more about 35 years later!!


Michael said...

Love those old shots from Ottawa Station. For a station that locals have reluctantly accepted since it replaced old Union Station, the Tremblay Road depot has certainly had its share of memorable moments. Great post.

Eric said...

Hi Michael,

Yes, the new Ottawa station is suitably capitally spacious and monolithic in its own way, with a bit of 1970's CN largesse thrown in.

It would appear it has also served as a 'national' railway station in its lifetime.

Thanks for keeping us op to date on the current goings-on on The Beachburg Sub!

Thanks also for your comment,

Anonymous said...

Well here I am....Dear Eric...Great blog posting, real Canadiana, lost in the cobwebs of our mind. Great press pictures and consists. Still looking for my Via paperwork. Digital is going great. Part two to follow, Bruce and Mark will have to be patient a bit more. Texas achieve on way in parcel movements. R3K

Eric said...

As you know, here at Trackside Treasure, it's all about Canadiana, Brian! It will be a great day if/when you find VIA paperwork relevant to Dief's train!!

Keep searching in the R3K Arkives!

Thanks for your comments,

MissWatson said...

Hi, I'm researching a book that will include mention of the Diefenbaker funeral train. I'm wondering if it's possible to find the original quote from MP Deborah Grey that you mention. Thank you!

Eric said...

You'll find the photo and Deb Grey's piece in "100 Photos that Changed Canada" published by HarperCollins. Link here:

Hope this helps,

Anonymous said...

I wish I could show this to my ex husband as it’s his family in the top picture but I know he saw the picture in the museum.

Eric said...

Indeed, A. That is an amazing connection about an equally-amazing photo - so evocative and that's why it's in a position of pride in this prime ministerial post.

Thanks for your comment,