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FALLEN WORKERS: Worker drowned in canal

By Arden Phair, Special to Postmedia Network

The Nottingham family was sitting down for dinner at their farm in Raglan, ON, when the telephone rang. It was the telegraph office – the news was obviously urgent.

Their son, and brother, Fergus Nottingham, had drowned in the Welland Ship Canal.

Nottingham was barely back to work. He had been convalescing all winter from two broken legs incurred in the fall of 1928 during a workplace accident on the canal. The following spring, he decided to return to work early. Nottingham was a long-time employee of A.G. Creelman, having first started with the company while out west almost a decade earlier.

His normal job was as a gasoline locomotive operator, but on the day of his death he was temporarily working as a concrete finisher, finishing the top of the upper west entrance wall to Lock 8. 

Even though there was no witness to him falling in the water, the official canal report of the circumstance of death stated that “While moving along the outside of the form work he lost his balance and fell backwards into the present canal (the Third Canal).” 

Apparently Nottingham could not swim.

A Coroner’s jury ruled the death as accidental, but “…added a rider that some form of life-saving apparatus should be installed in a public place where it would be available in case of need, and if possible that a man be placed in charge of this at least during the season of navigation. 

A boat, life preserver and proper grappling irons were suggested.”

Nottingham had resided in Port Colborne for three or four years. The day after receiving the phone call, Nottingham’s father, John Edward, and a younger brother, Frank, left for Niagara to deal with details of the death. The funeral took place from the family home in East Whitby Township, not far from Oshawa. 

It was a gloomy, wet day as a horse-drawn hearse conveyed the young man’s remains to Pine Grove Cemetery for interment.

Prior to heading west on one of the annual harvest excursions, and afterwards signing on with the Creelman Company in Alberta, Nottingham had served in the Canadian military.

He never saw action because after arriving in England in 1918, there was a major outbreak of the mumps.  In the days before effective antibiotics, illnesses and infectious diseases accounted for almost three-quarters of the 539,690 hospitalizations of Canadian soldiers. 

After influenza and pneumonia, mumps was the most common disease that spread in the close quarters of the military forces.

The family history information for this article was provided by Roy Nottingham, youngest brother of Fergus, one of his six brothers and sisters. He was born in 1915, was 13 at the time of his older brother’s death, and was 99 when interviewed for this article.

This article is part of a series remembering the men whose lives were lost in the construction of the Welland Ship Canal.  The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial will be unveiled during a special ceremony at Lock 3 on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. The public is invited to attend. To learn more or to make a donation for the Memorial, please visit www.stcatharines.ca/donate.
 



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