It was a warm, clear day around 4 p.m. on May 3, 2016 as Thomas Hudson sat on a red metal box on the gravel next to the railway tracks at Young Road in Chilliwack.
He had a backpack with him and a plastic bag tucked under the box marked with the letters “CN” next to the switching station.
Tommy was waiting for the train.
And when it came, he stepped onto the tracks and ended decades of pain.
Tommy was a stranger to the drivers stuck on Young Road for hours on that day one year ago. He was a stranger to the train conductor, the paramedics who attended, the RCMP officers at the scene.
But more than 5,000 kilometres away Tommy’s partner, his girlfriend, Patty Musgrave aches with the pain of his loss and she wants people to know he was a person who was loved.
An imperfect, damaged, broken person who was also a free spirit capable of joy and who shouldn’t have died.
“He let that train take him instantly,” Patty said recently, leading up to the one-year anniversary of Tommy’s death. “He made his plan and he carried it out. He didn’t mean to hurt the conductor, the ambulance attendants and the RCMP.
“I’m not angry at Thomas William Hudson. I don’t think he was a coward, nor was he selfish. I know a lot of selfish people who are right here on this Earth … and he was not one of them. His own pain would not stop and he did the one thing that would make it OK.”
Things did not go well early in Tommy’s life, and to avoid reflecting on childhood tragedy, like so many others, he turned to drugs and alcohol. His mother was killed on Christmas Eve in 1981 when he was four and his twin brother was seriously hurt and hospitalized.
“While other children woke to Santa, Tommy woke to hell,” Patty says. “Tommy’s mental health began to deteriorate that morning, and his addictive personality and the desire to self-destruct was awakened upon his first sip of beer and his first puff of weed and the moment he found cocaine.”
Tommy was plagued with addiction from the age of 15 until the day he died at 38 in Chilliwack.
When Patty first met Tommy – also on a May 3, back in 2010 – she said she did not want to connect with him. She thought he was a “pest.”
“We were both in recovery,” Patty said. “I’ve never dated anyone in recovery … it was one of those things, when I walked in the room and he turned around and looked at me I said ‘No, no, no, no, no.’”
But the two did connect and fell in love. He was clean at that time, but his demons eventually caught up with him and both drugs and wanderlust took over. He would relapse on and off over the next six years.
He wasn’t aboriginal, but Patty is, and Tommy embraced spiritual practices and traditional healing whenever he could. After a failed stint in recovery in the Maritimes, he took off to Calgary to be with his brother and to find work. Patty said he wanted her to come with him, but she couldn’t leave her job and her family and her own support system.
He didn’t last long in Calgary, moved around some more working and travelling, ending up in Chilliwack in March of 2016.
Patty and he spoke every day, but she increasingly worried about him, particularly when he ended up heading to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Whether he was getting involved with dangerous people or it was paranoia due to drug use is unclear, but he increasingly expressed concern for his own safety. He met someone with a van, and told Patty they were given money and sent to Vancouver to lure girls into the sex trade. Tommy told one girl to run away, after which Patty says he feared for his own safety.
“I asked him, ‘are you afraid of that guy?’” Patty said. “He said ‘Yes.’”
Another time he told her there were people here out to kill the homeless.
It was 9:30 a.m. on May 3, 2016 when Tommy made his last call to Patty. He was at the Yellow Deli on Yale Road.
“He called to tell me he loved me,” she said. “He was back in Chilliwack and that was a good thing. His voice was edgy, but not uncommon for an addict without money and dope. Looking back, he’d made up his mind already.”
Rail crossing menace
That someone, anyone, was killed at a railway crossing in Chilliwack is, sadly, nothing new. Over the years there have been many accidents and suicides at rail crossings across the Lower Mainland, but the fact that the line runs through the heart of the city means there is easy pedestrian access, particularly at Broadway, Young and Evans.
In fact, the City of Chilliwack has more high risk rail crossings than any other community in B.C. and the 13th highest number in all of Canada. And according to a Transport Canada database of Canada’s 500 “highest risk” crossings in 2014, seven are in Chilliwack.
Top on the list of Chilliwack’s most high risk is the Young Road crossing, in at 49 out of 500.
In 2012, there were two fatalities at the Young Road crossing. A 49-year-old man was struck by a train near the crossing in February of that year, then a 25-year-old Saskatchewan man died in November when he tried to beat the train. In July of 2012, a quick-thinking cyclist helped save the life of a 92-year-old man whose scooter got caught in the train tracks.
There are approximately 43 suicides on average annually committed on railway rights of way, according to data from a Railway Suicide Prevention organization created at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal.
And for every suicide, there are at least six individuals confronted with potentially traumatic situations: engineers/conductors, police officers, first responders, rail staff and witnesses.
Tommy’s family reached out to the conductor of the CN train to let them know that it is not his fault. These incidents can have traumatic impacts on train workers who can do little to prevent accidents and suicides. And after the fact, they have to drive by the same spot over and over.
A week after his suicide, Patty reached out to this reporter to ask for a photo of the spot where he died.
“As morbid as it seemed I needed to see the last place he sat,” she said. “Where he left his backpack and how he sat waiting for the train. It helps.”
A few months later, Sto:lo elder Eddie Gardner came to the spot, drummed, and burned sage and tobacco as a cleansing ceremony for Tommy.
“His life meant something,” Gardner said on Oct. 21, 2016 at the spot by Young Road. “His family knew he had a troubled spirit but he still was a wonderful human being. We know what he has gone through. It’s his time to be free on the other side and walk into the light and be with his ancestors.”
And there he is. There he was. A man who was loved, who was talented, smart, athletic, but also traumatized and addicted. A true Canadian spending time in just about every province, falling in love with the mountains and B.C. and ending up in Chilliwack.
A broken soul who ended his life in the heart of this city, just one among many living on the streets, torn by the ravages of mental health and addiction.
“Tommy was done,” Patty says. “I think he was tired.”
His remains were returned to the east coast, and he was laid to rest in the rural village in New Brunswick where he was born.
“His loved ones move through the days shouldering their own grief and attempting to understand,” Patty said. “Love never ends. Love is forever. This beautiful spirit was loved. Unconditionally.”