Saturday, September 3, 2016

THE BELLEVILLE SECRET - the Mackenzie-King funeral train stops for ice (July 27, 1950)

Ronald J. Jack
Blog Author and Publisher

"You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." - often attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Canada's tenth Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, (the man on our $50 dollar bill), managed to outsmart his rivals and fool Canadian voters almost all of the time.   His three terms in office were from 1921-1926,  1926-1930, and 1935-1948.  With an M.A. and PhD. awarded by Harvard University, he remains Canada's most educated, and literary Prime Minister.  For twenty two years King was in control of this nation, and yet those millions he enjoyed governing knew very little about him. A man who died a virgin at age 75, King did not waste his energies on personal relationships.  His only project was his personal ambition and political career, and the thousands of days he saved by avoiding women, he invested in self promotion and in endless secret consultations with ghosts and spirits.  He was also careful to plan his own State Funeral, and when he died in July of 1950, his written  instructions were followed to the the letter.

The Mackenzie King State Funeral - Parliament Hill, July 1950
The body of W.L. Mackenzie King on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.
It was July 25, 1950 and air conditioning was not yet installed.
Temperatures were seasonal,  and consistently warm.

King did not want to be embalmed, but he had the misfortune of
dying in July.  The OTTAWA CITIZEN was certainly tactful,
but one header was a bit awkward:  "Odor of Flowers Fills the Commons
When Mourners Set Out in Sunshine."  Say what?

Ottawa - Toronto temperature forecast for July 25, 1950
The temperature forecast for Ottawa during the historic 
Mackenzie King "Laying in State" was a balmy  81 Fahrenheit.

The Liberal politician Mackenzie King on our $50 since 1975
The Liberal politician has been on our $50 banknote since 1975.
The Conservative, Robert Borden, will soon be bounced from
the $100., but Justin will keep Mackenzie on the red bill.

The Overnight Train to Toronto

Mackenzie King's funeral train leaving Ottawa Station, July 26, 1950
The Mackenzie King funeral train, a C.N.R. Special,  is here seen just
leaving Ottawa Station.  It was about 6:15 P.M.,  July 26, 1950 and on the platform, 
crowded with onlookers, were an R.C.A.F.  and R.C.M.P. band playing dirges.

Mackenzie King Funeral Train, July 26 - 27, 1950 (Schedule)

Cart load of ice at Belleville Station, the Mackenzie King funeral train, 1950

When the train pulled in, some time after Midnight, the train station at Belleville was very quiet. There were very few passengers waiting for the first train of the day - the 2:53 A.M. into Toronto. The train remained buttoned up, and as a crew opened the rooftop and belly hatches on "BONAVENTURE", the King funeral car, the only men who stepped off onto the platform were a Black porter, a uniformed C.N.R. conductor and (I believe) one plain-clothes security officer. He is the man (above) in the fedora.  In a 12-photo sequence, the photographer was careful not to show his face.  All in all, it was an eerie scene.

Secret stop at Belleville Station for ice - Mackenzie King funeral train, July 27, 1950
The station at Belleville, Ontario  - midway between
Ottawa and Toronto.  Even though it was past midnight
the ice was was melting fast.  The station still exists.

A full dozen men were involved in loading the blocks of ice into the funeral car, likely a mix of C.N.R. employees and a Belleville ice company. The servicing was done in secret, and the Press who were travelling with the body kept the experience to themselves.  Yet, if we are to believe news reports - that the funeral train was carrying most of the St. Laurent Cabinet, and historians - that an impromptu Cabinet meeting took place onboard,  in which they discussed committing Canadian troops to the war in Korea -  this sequence is all the more bizarre. Is it not?

St. Laurent Cabinet decides on Korean War - Mackenzie King funeral train 1950

In this passage from his recent book. David Bercuson tells us that, "In a somewhat macabre twist of events, [Lester] Pearson informed cabinet members of Acheson's request [for Commonwealth ground forces] on 27 July while all were aboard William Lyon Mackenzie King's funeral train enroute to Toronto from Ottawa; King had died five days earlier."  Quite a club-car gathering was it not? A dead Liberal P.M., the sitting Liberal P.M. and a future Liberal P.M.  While those working men were stowing Mackenzie King's ice, powerful politicians were sitting behind closed blinds discussing taking Canada into an Asian ground war.

Late night passengers, Belleville Train Station, July 26, 1950

The photographer who took these fascinating images was composing a visual essay that was never published.  (Undoubtedly his editor realized it would be deemed offensive, and alienate many Canadian readers.) Though I do not use the entire photo-sequence in this blog, you can see how thorough the lensman was. For example, the C.N.R. sign board shows the schedule of East - West  bound trains for July 27, 1950.  Belleville, Ontario was the mid-way point the Mackenzie King funeral train, which was scheduled to arrive at Toronto at 10 A.M. on July 27.   It was past midnight and one of these women, probably the girl wearing pearls, is waiting for the first train of the day - the 2.53 A.M. to Toronto.

Crew quickly stow ice under the Mackenzie King funeral train, July 27, 1950

You, the viewer, will form impressions of your own, but I have had these images for several years. My mind keeps coming back to the security aspect. Only hours before, in Ottawa, military personnel in their thousands and R.C.M.P. troopers were involved in the grand ceremonial, including an RCAF flypast - and yet not a single R.C.M.P. officer stepped off the funeral train at Belleville Station. The security detail do not even peep out from behind the drawn blinds. Even the Canadian Press (C.P.) and CBC  staffers accompanying King's corpse, remained hidden or perhaps asleep.  The man who stayed awake and took these photos was an American, and not at all beholden to the Ottawa power structure which shaped and preserved the image W.L. Mackenzie King insisted upon.  The photographer got the story, but it was never published.  As an American, he probably didn't care one way or another.  As Canadians, we should care.

CNR crew quickly load ice into the Mackenzie King funeral train, July 27, 1950


Mackenzie King funeral train, July 1950 - empty ice cart


The Ottawa newspaper  ran with saturation coverage of the State Funeral, as one would expect. Much of the prose was grossly overwrought, and would have readers believe that Canadians virtually worshipped Mackenzie King. Yet a few factual fragments slipped through the hagiography, including the names of the C.N.R. crew on the funeral train.  They were all from the town of Belleville, Ontario. My suspicion is that one of them made a telephone call when government officials ordered the train halted in their town. While the "BONAVENTURE" funeral coach was loaded with ice, there was time for a few Belleville residents to dress and rush over to the station.

C.N. crew members of Mackenzie King funeral train, July 25, 1950
C.N.R. - Belleville crewmen mentioned by name: 
McIlmoyle, Marshall, Burrows, and Secker.

This small clipping tells us that on the funeral train, as on Parliament Hill, flowers were used to mask the stink of death.  "The back portion of the coach, divided by a black mantle, was filled to capacity with baskets, sprays and wreaths of flowers in an overwhelming burst of colour and scent."  The curtains were drawn tight on the funeral car, and the gorgeous interior display was never photographed. The sweet flowers were for the benefit of ranking officials, including Liberal Cabinet Ministers, who accompanied the body on the long ride from Ottawa to Toronto.

The Mackenzie King funeral train, July 27, 1950 - disappointment at Belleville

William Lyon Mackenzie King was a master at self-promotion and he was polishing his own apple long before the Liberal Party helped him secure the role of Canadian Prime Minister. Too much of what history tells us is varnished or redacted, and to leave matters as they stand is to indict us all for having a lack of passion for the truth.  An obvious example was King's meetings with Hitler, Goering, Hess and other Nazi Party leaders.  It is true that we now have faint acknowledgement of King's German episode in high school text,  but we are also now a visual culture, and modern Canadians do not read books.  The Third Reich prepared a set of souvenir photographs for King, so that he might remember Hitler with fondness.  When war came, he briefly overcame his vanity, and burned them.  

Mackenzie King meets Adolph Hitler - Berlin 1937

The point is not to portray King in a bad light, but to get us a little closer to who he really was. Should we have let Mackenzie King get away with such subterfuge?  Should not Canadian historians (especially teaching historians who are taxpayer funded) have left no German stone unturned, and located duplicate copies?   I am rather convinced that such evidence of King's graphic image still waits for discovery.  With today's photo-essay I hope to persuade you that digging into the soil of history may profit us more than reading books written by doting admirers of Canada's political elite.

Canada's Prime Minister Mackenzie King visiting Nazi Germany, 1937
One of four surviving Press photos of Mackenzie King's tour to Nazi Germany in 1937.
This one has appeared  in COUNTER POINTS, a Social Studies text published by Prentice Hall .

The production of history articles and books in Canada is largely a voluntary effort, (few can earn a living at it) and for that reason the field is thickly sewn with ideologues.  As someone who has been reading our history for fifty years I can attest that the Socialist mindset won the battle for hearts and minds decades ago, and yet they refuse to stand down.  They still patrol the perimeters of our cemeteries, to ensure that the spirits of those they detest can never rise through the sod. A typical example was an attack article published by,  on the subject of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, our P.M. from 1930-1935 who is flippantly dismissed as "Canada's millionaire prime minister".  R.B. Bennett Doesn't Deserve a Spot on Parliament Hill  In fact it is rather easy to take a hatchet to most of Canada's Prime Ministers, including the current fellow, but it is more fun to simply sleuth the hidden truth that they struggled to conceal.

W.L.M. "Rex" King and the real King, Ottawa 1939

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