It was one of the deadliest bus accidents in Canadian history.
A bus full of high school students was heading to a dance in Hudson on the evening of October 7, 1966, but for some reason, the level crossing gates in Dorion were lifted.
The school bus drove over the railroad tracks when it was struck by a CN freight train, killing 20 students and the bus driver.
“I don’t remember seeing anything at all, just remember kind of waking up and being stuck,” said Liette Perron, who was 16-years-old at the time.
“Somebody found me and said ‘oh I know her, I’m going to take her out’ and somebody else said ‘don’t touch her yet we don’t know if she’s in one piece,’ then I fainted.”
The accident shook the entire nation.
Twenty-five thousand people showed up for the combined funerals of 19 teenagers, two other victims died shortly after. Despite several investigations, no one was ever found responsible.
“Everything was silent; the word was don’t talk about it and you’ll forget, but it wasn’t easy,” said Perron, who suffered a neck injury.
She spent one month in hospital and three months in intensive rehabilitation.
Fifty years later, the now 66-year-old still needs physical therapy, but it’s the emotional trauma and survivor’s guilt that has hit hardest over the years. She recently ran into the father of one of her fallen classmates.
“The first thing he said was ‘I wonder what my son would have become?’ so I held his hand and I said ‘I knew him well, he was a good guy, he would have done something good’ and I just left,” Perron said.
The mayor of Vaudreuil-Dorion was only 6-years-old at the time of the accident, but he clearly remembers how it affected so many lives.
“There are a hundred different stories,” said Guy Pilon.
“People who were supposed to take the bus and didn’t, people who missed the bus, people who had been retained at home by their parents because they were punished, and there was one girl who lost her identical twin sister.”
But there was also positive change that came of Quebec’s deadliest school bus accident; most level crossings like the one in Dorion have been replaced by safer underpasses.
“The safety is improved a lot now that the trains don’t cross regular streets,” Pilon said.
The mayor and his brothers set up a memorial plaque to help remind the town about all the lives lost and to commemorate the courage of the survivors.
Perron and 14 other survivors gather there every year to remember the tragedy.
“Every year they talk about Dawson, every year they will be talking about Lac Mégantic, but whatever happened here in Dorion was just as big,” Perron insisted.
Many of the survivors will gather at the Trinity church in Dorion Friday evening in a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary.
Perron is hoping that from now on, the next generation will remember what happened on the night of October 7, 1966.
“We will never forget,” she said.
“If people think that we can forget something like that, we can’t. We had a chance to live our lives to do something good or whatever. I have a family, but some of them didn’t, they never had a chance to prove who they could be.”