William Alexander McFall EM

b. 21/06/1850 Bristol, Quebec.  d. 16/04/1911 Ottawa, Ontario.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 14/04/1911 Ontario, Canada.

William A McFall EM

William was born on 21st June 1850 in Bristol, Quebec, the son of Irish immigrants Andrew and Margaret McFall (nee McManiman). He was the third of their eight children. William became a engine driver, and married Ray Ann “Roxie” Davis in 1874. William and Roxie would have eight children though their youngest daughter Nina, died as an infant in 1899. The year 1901 was a momentous one for William McFall.  On 22nd April, he brought the first service train across the brand new Interprovincial Bridge and into the Canada Atlantic Railway Central depot on the site where the Grand Trunk Railway Union Station would be built some ten years later.  His train had been repainted and was gaily decorated with flags especially for the occasion.  There was quite a party at Hull waiting to board the train, including most of the officers of the line.   It was important to get in on time but this wasn’t made any easier by old Mrs. Valiquette of the Cottage Hotel in Hull who insisted on breaking a bottle of wine on his engine as it entered the bridge.  McFall, waved to the crowds who thronged Nepean Point and Dufferin Bridge to witness history being made.

In 1902, he became an employee of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The C.P.R. finished construction of the Gatineau line to Maniwaki in 1904 and William McFall brought the first train down on 8th February, the previous service train to Gracefield having been taken empty to Maniwaki.  From now, his regular job was the evening passenger train from the C.P.R. Union depot to Maniwaki and the return to Ottawa the next morning.  As with most of his railway life this didn’t give him much time at home but he and Roxy brought up a family of four daughters and two sons. He was a prominent Orangeman and active in the Order of Railway Engineers.

On 11th February 1905 McFall was involved in an accident a few miles south of Low. Happily, it turned out to be not too serious, although it was a portent of things to come.  It seems that the caboose on the rear of the train left the rails and dragged two cars with it.  No sooner had they left the rails than they toppled over completely on their sides on the embankment nearly twenty feet from the track.  The couplings gave way and the locomotive and baggage cars kept the rails. There were not many passengers on board, but these were thrown violently, and several of them badly bruised and cut by the broken glass.

A more serious event occurred on 21st September 1908 at Aylwin.  McFall was running his regular passenger train to Maniwaki and, on leaving Aylwin, he was preparing to have his normal snack.  He stood on the tender facing the rear and opened the cupboard to retrieve his lunch pail as usual.  However, on this day, someone had left the switch to the siding open, the engine and tender ran off the end of the siding and McFall was trapped by his left leg between the engine and tender.  He was brought back to a house close to the station where the local doctor, Dr. Charles F. Gordon, was forced to amputate the lower part of his left leg.

He was brought back to St. Luke’s hospital, Elgin Street, Ottawa and was able to return home a month later on 21st October.  By this time, he was one of the oldest engineers on the C.P.R. and was given the opportunity to retire.  But his love of railroading was too strong and it wasn’t very long before he returned to duty and his Maniwaki line, albeit with an artificial leg.

Two and a half years later McFall was involved in his final accident, two miles north of North Wakefield, later known as Alcove. He was brought back to St. Luke’s hospital in Ottawa, where he was attended by his wife.


On the 14th of April, 1911, a passenger train from Ottawa was approaching North Wakefield when the driver McFall suddenly perceived a gap in the track between 50 and 100 feet wide and over 20 feet deep caused by thaws and rain. The fireman jumped off the engine, but McFall put on the emergency brakes and sticking to his engine managed to bring the train to a standstill. The engine, however, fell into the gap, and McFall received terrible injuries, from which he died. There were forty passengers in the train, and had it not been for McFall’s heroic devotion to his duty serious loss of life would probably have occurred.