Most people know me as an only child, or, assume that I am. It was easier to identify that way when people I newly met asked if I had any brothers or sisters, I would reply, ‘no’. It saved them the embarrassment of walking unwittingly into a sensitive situation and it saved me from answering questions that I didn’t have an answer to.
I did have a brother, Ian. The picture above (thank you Janice), from 1974, is me on the left with a very full head of brown hair, my cousin’s wife, Rita, and my mother and my brother, Ian, on the couch behind. Ian died on a cargo ship out of Halifax Canada as it was handling grain in Kingston Jamaica. This was in 1977, Ian was 22 years old at the time.
His body was shipped back to Ottawa where my folks were then living. I drove through from Toronto, where I was living, for the small funeral service after which, he was cremated. A number of years later, after my father’s death, I came across a diary that my father had kept about the day he and my mother took his sailboat, along with my brother’s ashes, up the Ottawa River and scattered his ashes on the water.
That was everything that I knew. My folks did nothing further at the time of his death. Their son was gone, end of story.
About five years ago my mother was visiting me in Atlanta. I asked her what she knew about Ian’s death. Was it negligence? Was it avoidable? How did it happen?
She said, “I don’t know. I let your father handle everything. Ian was gone and nothing could change that.”
For decades I had been curious to find out what happened. Not in order to begin a lawsuit so many years after the fact, but simply to find out what happened. I thought that perhaps after my mother passed, I might contact someone, somewhere… the morgue in Kingston Jamaica??… I had no idea where to start… to find out some details. As my mother had summed it all up, Ian was gone and nothing could change that, but I would have liked to know how and why.
Last year when we were packing up my mother’s condo to trim down her belongings and move her to the Retirement Residence in Niagara Falls, I stumbled across an envelope with my father’s neat and unique printing style on front, “Ian”. I had a quick look at it and it was documents from Canada’s Department of External Affairs, dated June 24th, 1977.
Moving my mother was hectic and stressful, so at that time was certainly not the moment to have her reminisce about her son’s death. However, I had a quick glance through the papers to see that there had been an inquiry, there had been witnesses and there was a Post Mortem Examination Report.
Recently, I asked my mother if she still had that package and where it might be. Yesterday, we found it. I asked her if she had ever read the documents. She said, ‘no’, that she had preferred not to relive the pain, so she had chosen ignorance. Understandable.
All I knew about the event is that there were three of them in the hold at the time. Two got out. Ian didn’t. Here are their statements at the time of the Coroner’s Inquest.
“On Monday May 2nd, 1977 at about 2:00pm the “Gypsum Express” was berthed at the Rockford Wharf in Kingston. It was unloading grain. The grain goes down through the hatch onto a conveyor belt where it runs to the stern of the ship and onto a shore (conveyor) belt.
Deceased was sitting down on the grain. At this stage the grain was flowing quickly. The grain came down and covered him about his waist. The grain suddenly came down from the side and covered him. This was because of the steepness of the grain banks. Deceased tried to get out but it continued covering him. I called for help and along with (the other seaman) I went to where the deceased was. We tried to pull him out but the grain was still flowing and covered him up to about his chest.
I continued trying to pull him out while (the other seaman) left to get help. Then I left to stop the belts. I told another crew member who stopped the belts.
I went back to where I had left the deceased. By then he was completely covered up by the grain apart from his two hands which were above his head. We tried to shovel out the deceased but every time we moved the grain more would come down on top of him.
He was eventually taken out. I never saw him again.
This is my first experience on a ship taking grain. This ship is not a grain ship, it is normally used for transporting gypsum rock.”
From the other seaman in the hold at the time:
“At about 2:10pm I was in the hull along with Ian McBrearty and (the other seaman). We were all sitting around talking. Deceased was sitting in the corner at the starboard side where the grains fell. The grain was, at that stage, going out from below him. Deceased was being covered with the grain and he called out that he couldn’t get out.
Myself and (the other seaman) went down and tried to pull out deceased but the grain kept coming down faster. We screamed but nobody came. I left and found someone on deck and later found the Second Mate. I went back to the hull and the deceased was just covered by the grain. His head was just above it. The three of us continued trying to get him out but we couldn’t. The grain kept coming down.
I went to the hull to get a respirator. When I got back, others were still trying to get him out. Deceased was eventually dug out. He appeared dead to me then.”
The Cause of Death, as printed on the Coroner’s Certificate of Finding of Jury:
“Death was due to Asphyxiation secondary to being submerged in a bulk of grain. Death was due to misadventure and no one is criminally responsible.”
After forty years of wondering, I find it rather anti-climactic. This report answers the ‘how’ but creates a ‘why’.
“Death by misadventure”? What were the three seaman doing, being in the hold at the time?
The hoped-for, ‘closure’, it’s not.
Perhaps my mother was right.