Saturday, December 25, 2010

Golfer MARLENE STEWART STREIT and Brampton's Christmas Miracle of 1954!

MARLENE STEWART STREIT, Order of Canada, was born on the farm, in Cereal, Alberta on March 9, 1934. Two years later her family abandoned the family farm because of the unrelenting locust hordes of the past two years. These locust storms had consumed all their crops. The Stewarts resettled in Ranier Alberta, in the irrigation district, where crops were bountiful with fruits (like melons) and vegetables they had never even seen before.

So far, so good.

Eventually, horrendous sand storms killed crop production in Ranier, so the Stewart family in 1941 again pulled up stakes, and moved to Fonthill near to the US border at Niagara Falls, Ontario. Marlene's father, Harold, had tried to join the RCAF but because her dad was a skilled electrician he was immediately dispatched to work for Fleet Aircraft of Canada, there in Fonthill.

Still, good.

Starting off as a golf caddy for a friend of hers, Marlene learned how to play…and really win at the game…from golfing master and pro Gordon McInnis Sr. at Fonthill's Lookout Point Golf Club. Putting spikes into her street shoes, and rewrapping her golf club's because Marlene's hands were so small…McInnis taught Marlene the techniques showcased in Ben Hogan's book, Power Golf.

Tiny Marlene, she stood only five feet tall, was so persistent and so damn determined. She got golf right, and right from the start immersed herself in the game, practising golf day and night. Soon she started winning tourneys. After she won the Ontario provincial championship, before financially committing to take Marlene to the Amateur level, Harold Stewart asked McInnis to fairly assess his daughter's potential future success.

Marlene's dad asked the seasoned McInnis, "How far can she go?"

McInnis thought about the father's searching question, and honestly responded, 'She can go the limit. She can be the best.'

And that's exactly what she started to do…

By December, 1954, at a mere 20 years old, and standing only five feet tall with tiny hands, Miss Stewart had garnered some pretty spectacular golfing achievements for a young Canadian lass.

Have a looky for yourself:

▪Ontario Junior Girls (2-time winner)
▪Ontario Ladies' Amateur - 1951
▪Canadian Women's Amateur - 1951, 1954
▪CLGA Close Amateurs - 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954

EXCELLENT!! Way to go Marlene!

But on December 17, 1954 Canada's brightest golfing star boarded a triple-tail TCA Super Constellation in Tampa, Florida with…Canada's worst pilot, Captain Norman Ramsay, at the helm.

Oh. No.

Marlene, not good~

I can't look. Quick, take another afternoon flight!!

Too late folks, airborne now…

Trans-Canada-Airlines newest type airliner took flight on a route straight north from Tampa to Malton airport, now known as Pearson International or YYZ.

At 9:32pm, Mount Pleasant - Brampton, Ontario time, Captain Ramsay vectored his large and brand-new 1.5 million dollar Constellation to line-up with Malton airport's northwest runway. He coaxes the graceful bird into position, drops his wheels, drops his flaps, throws his canteen out the window, and brings her in to land.

Trouble is…Norman and his TCA Constellation…are 12 miles from the airport.

Very soon, Norman's Super Constellation's fuselage and delicate underbelly is being ripped up by the very rough, and very frozen, unforgiving farmland fields of Mount Pleasant in Brampton.

All 27 passengers aboard the TransCanada Airlines flight had only just been told, and had only begun to prepare, moments before, for landing at Malton…when their unexpected disaster struck.

On the descent, the Super Constellation struck several trees which sheared off one of the wings of the ill-fated airliner. Good grief. The speeding airliner stared sliding along the frozen Brampton tundra for nigh of a 1000 feet. When the botched-landing airplane came to rest, it was on the farmland of Clure Archdekin. And fortunately, for the passengers and crew, Clure was right on hand to give help.

Some of the passengers were able to escape through the large fuselage hole created when the Connies' wing was torn away. Other dazed survivors just jumped to the ground unassisted from the former aircraft, while Clure got the rest of the passengers, and all three crew members, out from the other end of the burning wreck. Everyone survived, and as they ran from the fire engulfed airplane, it proceeded to explode sending a huge ball of orange flame that went a hundred feet into the air.

At the time, 1954, it was the most miraculous escape in Canadian aviation history.

Marlene Stewart, herself, sustained only slight injuries from the accident. Not only did everyone survive, but miraculously…no one was even seriously injured!

These TCAL air crash survivors were cautiously sent to Brampton and Weston hospitals. Brampton firefighters who had rushed to the scene mostly assisted the crash survivors by getting them into arriving ambulances, as they were not able to save the burning airplane. TCA's pride of the fleet, the Lougheed Super Constellation, was stuck 1000 feet from the nearest road, on frozen, rough farmland…and remember Brampton at the time did not have the elaborate fire hydrant system that it has today. In short, the firefighters were not able to get any significant amount of water out to the airplane, in order to save her.

Very shortly after this crash, Malton Airport's flight approach route was altered, so that descending airliners would no longer take this approach…and fly over the centre of Brampton.

Good idea.

This Trans-Canada-Air-Lines crash, and Hurricane Hazel's terrible October flooding of Brampton two months earlier, convinced Brampton politicians that the city needed full-time firefighters, modern equipment, and a disaster plan for this growing community of British and Portuguese immigrants.

Only 16 short years later that very disaster plan would have to be put into effect for another large airplane that would crash in Brampton, this time, at the other end of the city.

That would be Air Canada Flight 621 on July 5, 1970.

Only this time there would be no miracles, because there would be no survivors.

Marlene Stewart Streit as we know survived the forgotten Trans-Canada-Air-Lines crash of 1954, and went forth to become the most accomplished Canadian amateur golfer…in Canadian history, male or female. Marlene also became the only golfer in world history to have won the Australian, British, Canadian and United States Women's Amateur Golf Championships.

In total career wins Marlene won 11 Canadian Ladies’ Open Amateurs, nine Canadian Ladies’ Close titles and four Canadian Ladies’ Senior Women’s Amateur tournaments. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1956, and again in 2003.

When Marlene was 69 years young she became the oldest person to win a USGA championship.

She claimed her third US Senior Women's Amateur Championship at this time.

Today, she is 76 years old.

In 2004, Marlene Stewart Streit was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame becoming the first Canadian to be so honoured.

Marlene resides in Florida, but was not able to be reached for comment related to this post. I hope to do a follow-up piece interviewing Marlene about herself, and her TCA experience.

A special thanks to Carolyn Crawford who helped me find the location of the accident, and provided me with some background details about the community at the time of the accident. Carolyn's father resided on the farm beside, and south of Clure Archdekin's. Both her aunt and her father boarded their tractor that fateful evening, and drove out to the accident to see if they could lend a hand, only to find the passengers rescued, and the airplane burning out of control.

An additional special thanks to former Brampton firefighters who helped me identify the "famous" golfer who was aboard this flight, and to Rhonda Glenn, for additional details about Marlene's career.

The TOP photo is a TCA Super Constellation
LEFT photo is part of the crash in Mount Pleasant
CENTRE is Marlene at 20
RIGHT is the location of the crash arena in Mount Pleasant, Brampton

FAMOUS QUOTES from Marlene:

"Don’t be a spoiled brat; get out there and do it. Beat everybody. Don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder. Just beat ‘em."

“When you write about me, don’t forget Canada. Canada (fist clenched, tapping it on her heart) is right here!”



+++++MERRY CHRISTMAS to ALL in 2010!+++++

(As with all my articles…this is a first post that will be revised several times over time.)

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