Modria


This image was encountered on the Downtown Mall (a restored historic and pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, VA) last December (2009).

This area—central Virginia—had just come through a period of unusually heavy snow and more would be coming shortly after this picture was taken.

It had been several months since I last wandered the mall looking for images and I was startled at how many shops were now vacant—so many empty store fronts like this one. I estimated about one in five businesses had closed since my last visit on a warm Fall day. It was almost as though they had vanished in the snow.

I believe Modria was a computer software store selling products for business applications. If business overall is bad obviously that doesn’t bode well for a company like this.

Modria is also the name of a now abandoned community in British Columbia and the name of a song by Canadian singer-song-writer Nelson Riverwind. A member of the Sqamish tribe, Nelson grew up in the 100 Mile House area and is sometimes called the Poet-Laureate of BC. In the winter of 1999-2000 Nelson, with post production help from long time friend Gordon Lightfoot, recorded and released “Modria.” Described as a melancholy ballad, the subject of the song was unusual events that occurred in the winter of 1952 near the small railroad town of the same name.

The song received modest critical praise from Canadian popular music critics but did not do well commercially and never charted.

Modria, BC is or was, a small town and railroad siding on the Trans Canadian Railroad between Rogers Pass and Kinsbasket Lake in the Selkirk Mountains. Originally a company town built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1911 to perform year-round maintenance, its primary purpose was to keep clear the tracks where they passed through the highly avalanche-prone Roger’s pass.

Despite construction of an extensive series of snow sheds over the tracks in critical areas, in 1952 a rapid series of massive avalanches took the lives of 152 Canadian Army personnel and Railroad company employees. A tunnel project which had been in the planning stages since the late 40s was pushed into high gear and the Mt. McDonald tunnel which now passes under the pass, was completed in 1958.

The original 1953 accident/event report released to the public by the CPR as well as a similar report issued by the Canadian Defense Ministry–curiously– makes only a passing mention of body recovery—no numbers are cited—just that remains located were returned to the men’s families.

Not unlike Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” The lyrics of Nelson’s song eulogize the tragic events of the winter of 1952 but point up a significant discrepancy—the 152 lost souls did not die—they vanished.

Per sources whose reliability has not been verified, in 1998, as a result of the Public Records Access Policy—the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act—this information came to light. Described by some as the proverbial “smoking gun,” a report attributed to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (Equivalent to the American CIA) ostensibly states in fact the 152 men did inexplicably vanish along with a considerable amount of large and heavy railroad equipment.

All three reports—the 2 released to the public and the CSIS report—came to be known as the “Modria documents.” It was noted all three documents used very similar language, suggesting a common author. Reportedly, when attempts were made to find families that received the body of a loved one lost at Roger’s Pass, out of over 70 that were located and interviewed, none reported a body being returned to them and no one interviewed knew of a family that did receive a body.

The CSIS report made vague mention of a continuing investigation and cited concerns about public confidence in the government’s capacity to maintain national security as justification for the deception. Per the previously mentioned sources, this material was purportedly mistakenly released inasmuch as adjacent files in the same carton contained sensitive classified military information. While no mention of UFOs was made in any report, a copy of the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book was included in the file carton.

In a low-level and routine press conference in Ottawa in September of 2000, a Canadian Ministry of Defense spokesperson, in a brief statement, in addition to repeatedly pronouncing Modria as “Madeira,” laughingly dismissed accounts of “sensitive national government documents being found in a mysterious ‘X-files’ box of secret information,” as “Science-fiction rubbish” and the documents as transparent forgeries which were, “not even very good forgeries.”

Refusing to take any questions, after reading the prepared statement, the spokesperson abruptly concluded the press conference, saying he “had to get on the road,” and as he decamped, cited an impending storm—heavy snows predicted—as the source of his urgency.

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