In the spring of 1938 Sydney and Kate Priske decided to visit several of their children in British Columbia. Their daughter, Margaret, was living in Victoria, their son Jack in Vancouver and the ships their two sons, Ted and Harry, were serving on were docked in Esquimalt. According to the stories of their trip, they had a wonderful time visiting both Victoria and Vancouver.
The above photos are from their trip to Victoria. On the left is a family photo with Sydney and Kate in the back centre. Ted Priske is on the back left with his sister Jay in front. Ken Priske is in the front centre. Two sisters of Kate are to his right and Gib Post, Jay’s husband, is to the far right. The centre photo is of the two ships in Esquimalt Harbour. The third photo is Ted Priske in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria. Harry Priske was confined to quarters during his parents’ visit and they were only able to visit him on his ship.
After their return home, Sydney (nicknamed “Sam” at his workplace) was anxious to return to work. On May 16, 1938 he decided to book onto CPR Train #72 as a fireman, as that was the only opening available, even though his normal position was as an engineer. Little did he know that it would be his last trip.
The Port Arthur News Chronicle article dated Tuesday, May 17, 1938 told the tragic story of a violent and chaotic scene:
“Death rode eastward out of the Lakehead terminals at 3:15 o’clock yesterday afternoon with the crew of Canadian Pacific Railway freight train number 72, consisting of a locomotive and two vans, and at the Selim hill, seven miles west of Schreiber, at 5:50 o’clock, snuffed out the lives of an engineer, a fireman and a trainman, and injured two other railwaymen, after the locomotive had failed to make a curve and went hurtling down an embankment with the two vans rolling on top of it.
The dead, all Schreiber residents are: Engineer Ben Turner, 59; Fireman Sam Priske, 59; Trainman B. Hugo Kanneigeisser, 58. The Injured, at present receiving treatment in McKcllar hospital, Fort William are Conductor Edward Gerow and Trainman Wally B. Simon.
The dead and injured were brought to Port Arthur at 11.40 last night on Canadian Pacific Railway passenger train 2 which had been delayed two hours at the scene of the derailment until repairs were made to the track.
Trainman Kanneigeisser’s body was taken from the train here to the funeral chapel, 21 North Court Street. The bodies of Engineer Ben Turner and Fireman Sam Priske were taken to Fort William and were later transferred to the funeral chapel at 226 South Syndicate Avenue.
Simon and Gerow were taken from the train at Port Arthur, placed in ambulances, which had been drawn up at the depot, and were rushed to McKellar Hospital, Fort William …”
Originally the C.P.R. blamed the cause of the accident on the engineer, Ben Turner and fireman, Sam Priske, stating excessive speed caused the accident. However, the end result was that the accident could not have been caused by excessive speed because the train could not have achieved the high rates of speed mentioned in the length of time it had been on the tracks. The reason for the accident was binding of the drive wheels. The C.P.R. knew the train had a problem with the linkage binding and it would not have been a problem if there was a full load of cars on the train but, because of the fact there were only two cars and the caboose being pulled back to Schreiber, the wheel binding caused the train crash. It took many years, but finally the C.P.R. admitted that the real cause of the accident was due to wheel binding fault, not human error caused by excess speed.
The obituary for S. M. Priske from the local newspaper reads as follows:
“The funeral of Sydney Montague Priske was held Thursday morning at 10:00 o’clock from St. John’s Anglican Church, Schreiber, Ontario. The body arrived from Fort William on train number 4 Thursday morning and was escorted to the church by members of Red Rock Lodge number 387 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers…”
Following the church service, he was laid to rest in the Schreiber Municipal Cemetery.
It was a tragic way to the end of the life of a man far too early. But there is always the living who are left to understand such an early death. According to family lore, the evening of Sydney’s death, the family cat disappeared from home, never to be found again, even though his youngest son, Ken, spent many days fruitlessly searching for the cat, probably in a way to deal with his own grief. Sydney’s wife, Kate, collapsed at the entrance to the church going in to his funeral and, very shortly after her husband’s death, left Schreiber forever, perhaps to escape the memory of her husband’s death.