A history of UTM featuring explosions and murder
Rescued moose, chemical explosion, and murders are just teasers to the strange history of UTM.

Vamoosed! Campus police rescue stolen moose” read one of the headlines in Volume 27, as The Medium entered into the new millennium. This story isn’t the first —or last—of strange occurrences in and around campus throughout past decades.

On November 10, 1979, Mississauga faced the “biggest evacuation in North American history” due to a freight train derailment. Less than four kilometres away from Erindale, a freight train carrying chemicals, including propane and chlorine, derailed at the intersection of Mavis Road and the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks. This resulted in a massive explosion and gas leak, forcing every resident in Mississauga to evacuate the city.

Students at Erindale College, rebranded to the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) in 1998, had a week away from school. Students described the explosion on the Saturday night as one that had walls quiver and the ground shudder. When they looked out the window, they saw a “hellish orange glow as huge pillars of flame lept into the night air.”

Many of the students on residence barely had time to pack before they were evacuated from campus. Students were left without access to their money, clothes, or any belongings for a whole week, staying in a simultaneous state of curiosity and concern. Although students in UTM residence last year can relate to the sudden evacuation and uncertainty of the time away, I’m not sure which is preferable: a year and half long pandemic, or a chemical explosion.

Aside from the almost Chernobyl-level incident near campus, there have been a few deeply disturbing murders here too. Yes, murders.

In 1973, Robert Williams murdered Constance Dickey and Neda Novak, and attempted to murder Julia Sheldon.

Dickey was a co-ed at Erindale College. She was allegedly walking on campus through the woods where she was sexually assaulted and murdered with a metal wire. Police questioned students and staff working at Erindale College to get more information about the case.

Novak was believed to be hitchhiking when she was beaten and murdered. Her body was found north of the campus. Police questioned an astonishing 3,500 people during the investigation. Young women were advised by the police to not hitchhike and take severe precautionary measures.

Sheldon was violently sexually assaulted and stabbed repeatedly while allegedly hitchhiking to her friend’s house through Erindale Park. Luckily, Williams was scared away after hearing police sirens nearby. Sheldon was able to escape by dragging herself to the road, soon being spotted by a constable. It was her account that led to Williams’s arrest in 1974.

And last, but definitely not least, is another murder where remains were found near campus in 1991. An unidentified man’s decomposed remains were found less than a kilometre away from campus. Lots of curious onlookers jammed the streets to find out more about this strange and disturbing discovery. The remains were believed to be of a male between the ages of 20 to 25 and may have been an Erindale student.

When I was told at orientation that our campus was rich in history, this was not what I expected. Although I am deeply disturbed by these unfortunate and tragic events, is it awful to be finding them somewhat intriguing? UTM can feel a little drab and dry from time to time, as most students are focused on their own classes, living in their own worlds, and commuting. So, to anyone that says nothing interesting ever happens in Mississauga or UTM, you’ve been proven wrong.

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Opinion Editor (Volume 48) | opinion@themedium.ca
Aroni is a fourth-year student completing a double major in Political Science and English. She previously served as the Associate Comment Editor for Volume 47. Aroni is keen on enabling a safe and trusted space within the student body for students to critically think about issues that matter to them—both on a personal to global scale. Outside of studying, writing, and editing, she loves to dance to classic Bollywood tunes, cycle while listening to music or a podcast, write in her blog, and watch endless K-dramas on Netflix and Viu. You can connect with her on Instagram, LinkedIn, or her blog.

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