Not quite Abbey Road, but sometimes the most dull and dreary little crossroads has a big story behind it.
This is a sleepy corner I pass every few days on my way to play tennis in a nearby community. I have to be careful, because it is also where the High Road meets the Low Road and the Railway Tracks and some drivers do crazy things there, like forget to stop or signal.
These days, there's nothing but a few bungalows, a bunch of farmer's fields and a slew of fast-food outlets between where I live and where I play tennis, but one hundred years ago there was a large community there built around a factory, a munitions factory.
I learned this last week. I binge-watched Foyle's War on Netflix, about WWII, and one of the episodes was about a girl who got killed working in a munitions factor.
I mentioned this to my husband saying, "I guess it was dangerous to work in those factories," and he replied, "One of those blew up near our house, in WWI."
"Yes, at Dragon."
"Where the heck is Dragon?" I asked.
"In-between here and Rigaud," he said. "It's long gone."
So I looked up the story online.
Sure enough, Dragon was a company-town that sprung up in 1907 near here, around a hosiery factory, Curtis and Harvey.
When war broke out that company started making munitions and the facility, worth 3 million dollars, blew up one day in 1917, on August 18th, to be precise, at 7 a.m. in the morning.
There were many explosions that morning, "shaking the area like earthquakes," as different sections of the munitions factory caught fire and exploded.
Employees' homes farther away also caught fire, and even some local farm houses.
"The village of Dragon looks like a volcano had opened it up,"said the AP newspaper report the next day. "The ground for a mile around is strewn with melted metal and boilers, machinery, etc."
(For all I know a piece of shrapnel landed in a nearby forest, and it's still in my backyard today.)
According to newspaper reports, 350 men (and women?) worked in the area affected. When some men ran out, military policed tried to stop them, it was reported. Some of these workmen jumped an electric fence to safety
According to one account, the munitions plant was made up of 150 small buildings (or just a dozen or so, if you believe another source) I guess for this very reason.
(Lots of secretiveness around these places back then. Hard to get information, I imagine.)
The first explosion was in the building that contained nitric acid, but all the buildings, a dozen or 150 or in-between, were razed in the explosion.
The first reports said 17 to 25 men were killed.
War is hell, I guess. (This is a very Foyle's War style story, featuring the IFFY and secretive side of wartime activities on the home-front. And who knows what the 'real' story is: but then, sometimes an explosion is just an explosion.)
There was a note of true heroism, as well, if you want to believe what you read. A train was parked at Rigaud, a mile or two away, and the engineer was ordered to stay there but word came that there were three railway cars filled with explosives near the fire, so the engineer took matters into his own hands and rode the engine down to the fire and hooked up the loaded cars and got them away safely.
The area in 2008 from the Hudson Historical Society website.
The factory was where that winding river, La Raquette, meets the railway tracks.
There's no mention of this explosion in the Nicholson Letters from WWI, Not Bonne Over Here.
In 1917 father Norman was working on a dam in La Loutre, pretty dangerous work.
In 1918 Norman was working at Rand Drill in Sherbrooke, as an inspector at a munition's plant.
And, before that, around 1910, he had worked as an inspector on the TransContinental Railway as it was being built in Quebec and Ontario. One time, near Cochrane, Ontario, he was almost hit by a boulder that was being blown up to get it out of the way for the new tracks.
In the era, it was well-known that railway work was exceedingly dangerous, even for young men, but Norman was 60ish.
I guess, for Norman, getting blown up was always a worry.