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A Brakeman’s last ride–John Pushee brought home by Fraser River

May 22, 2015

On May 22, 1893, as New Westminster district residents were making plans for the May 24th holiday, a body was picked up in the Fraser River, "opposite the city," by the crew of the upriver steamer William Irving.

It was quickly identified as the body of John Pushee,  the brakeman on a CPR work train that had been thrown off its track and into the river by a rockslide at Seabird Bluff, March 30th.

Engineer Stephen White and brakeman Pushee were missing after the locomotive and five cars tumbled down the embankment and plunged into the water. The fireman crawled out the wreck and swam to shore, badly injured. The engineer and brakeman were trapped in the wreck and presumed drowned.

A wreck crew  rushed to the scene and the line of the railway was re-opened without delay to scheduled trains. The steamer Courser was contracted to assist in raising the submerged cars.

A search for the missing men was abandoned after a week.  White’s family offered a reward of $50,  that was matched by the CPR,  for  recovery of his body.

On April 28 a local man approached a railway section foreman about a tattered tweed vest he had found in the river. Attached to the threads of the vest was a rusted out pocket watch and an Odd Fellows badge.  The garment was determined to have belonged to another railway brakeman,  Albert Grant, who had perished in an earlier derailment at Farr’s Bluff, on November 11, 1891.

At last, on May 13,  Stephen White’s body was found at the mouth of the Harrison River.

Towards the third week of May the  Fraser River was rising to an unseasonably high level and had already overflowed the dyke at Langley.  A lot of  "heavy driftwood . . . including whole trees"  were observed rushing past Brownsville.

On the 22nd a "rain and hail storm with thunder and lightning passed over the City"  inflicting damage to fruit trees.  "The violence and volume of the rainfall caused a number of washouts on the streets."

The body of  CPR brakeman Pushee, picked up by the crew of the William Irving, had taken 7 weeks to travel from Seabird Bluff down to Brownsville.

John Pushee was originally from Antigonish, Nova Scotia. For a time he was living  a  long ways up the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway at Chapleau, Ontario.

Since then he had worked on the Great Northern out of Spokane as a conductor, before coming to Vancouver and taking a job as brakeman with the CPR.  He was said to have a brother with the GN in Montana.

IOOF Cemetery Sapperton - overlooking Fraser RiverThe local Odd Fellows claimed him as one of their own and made arrangements for his burial.


"The officers and members of New Westminster Lodge,  No. 3,  IOOF, are requested to meet in their Hall, Thursday, 25th inst., at 2 o’clock pm, sharp, to attend the funeral of the late Bro. Pushee, of Missanabie Lodge, No. 13, and visiting brethren invited to attend . . ."



Seabird Bluff washout on CPR June 1894 - Vancouver Archives photoThe following year, in great flood of June 1894, the Fraser River rose up and swept away a portion of the CPR track at Seabird Bluff. 


SS Wiliam Irving - Fraser RiverIn July the  steamer William Irving, the leading boat on the Fraser, while rounding Farr’s Bluff,  4 miles below Agassiz, broke her bow on a rock and went to the bottom of the river, a total wreck.

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