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Alex Carrion, owner of Marc's Poultry, pauses when asked about the friends and cousins he lost in a horrific accident involving his company's passenger van and a truck in Ontario. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Alex Carrion, owner of Marc's Poultry, pauses when asked about the friends and cousins he lost in a horrific accident involving his company's passenger van and a truck in Ontario. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

An immigrant's success story; an employer's enduring pain Add to ...

As he rushed in the dark to a small-town hospital, all Alex Carrion knew was his company’s van had crashed on a country road in the Ontario hamlet of Hampstead and his workers were hurt. When he got to the hospital, police officers told him nearly everyone in the van was dead.

He was stunned, scarcely believing what he’d heard. “I said to myself, ‘Second time?’ ”

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He was supposed to be with his workers on the poultry farm that day nearly three weeks ago to help train five new arrivals from his native Peru. But his feet were swollen and sore and it hurt to walk, so he went to the doctor instead after the crew set off from his New Hamburg warehouse around 6:30 a.m.

Thirteen hours later, alone in Stratford General Hospital, he struggled to understand how such a calamity could strike again. His youngest son, Pedro, who pushed him to expand his chicken vaccination business, died in a van crash eight years ago, at age 21, along with two other workers. He was behind the wheel, taking a crew to a poultry farm, when he accidentally ran a red light on a thick foggy morning in Hamilton. Now, 10 more of Mr. Carrion’s employees were dead, all of them connected to him in some way – through family, friends or old neighbours.

“It’s really hard to think this happened,” Mr. Carrion, 59, said in his first interview about the horrific collision, one of the deadliest in Ontario history. “The only thing I want for them is to have a better life, and then this happened.”

From his humble beginnings in a shantytown north of Lima, Mr. Carrion became the conduit for a small community of Peruvians to find work in Canada with his company, MARC Poultry Vaccination Services. Relatives and friends turned to him, hoping to build a better future for their families back home. And although they were far from their wives and kids, their personal ties to Mr. Carrion meant they were still among family, spending their time off playing soccer and hitting the dance floor at neighbourhood bars. To them, the towering Mr. Carrion – who came to Canada after marrying a former nun – was a man of influence, a success story with a background much like their own.

At his New Hamburg warehouse, Mr. Carrion laboured to speak about the men and the crash that claimed their lives, closing his eyes and holding back tears. “We were a big family,” he said. “Everybody, we know each other.”

Nearby, atop a beige metal filing cabinet, sat a picture of his son, Pedro.

“We’re not over it yet,” Raymond said of his brother’s death. “It’s not supposed to happen twice.”

FALLING FOR A CANADIAN NUN

Mr. Carrion’s childhood home in Peru stands out as one of the nicer dwellings on the street, a dirt road crisscrossed by dangling electrical wires. The house wasn’t always that way: Its far more modest foundations took shape in an urban slum on the outskirts of the capital about 50 years ago. Mr. Carrion’s family had joined waves of squatters who poured into Comas to build makeshift shelters out of straw mats, paper and corrugated metal, without electricity or running water.

A middle child of six kids, he started working at the age of 7, shining shoes and selling newspapers because his family needed the money. By the age of 11, he was working in construction. At 16, he was a plumber.

But no matter how hard he and his family worked, they couldn’t rise above the country’s crushing poverty. Their lot may never have changed had he not fallen for a Canadian nun in Peru.

He was 21 years old when he met Marlene Waechter at church. The pair forged a friendship that blossomed into a love affair after she left the religious order to be with him. The couple married and moved to Ontario in 1980 after the birth of their eldest son, Raymond.

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