EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

'All Aboard' for a trip from the era of passenger train travel on the CPR as David McMillan travels between Chapleau and Montreal in the sleeping car Rutherglen in the 1940s

David, Grade 11, 1957 from Ian Macdonald
When David McMillan, the son of the late Margaret and Leslie McMillan phoned to tell me that he was coming to Cranbrook, B.C., with his wife Bev and son Chris, where I now live, I knew it would be a fascinating trip down memory lane as we planned to visit the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel located here. We had a great visit and museum tour, and I asked David if he would share his memories about passenger train travel between Chapleau and Montreal to visit family. Here are David's memories, as he takes us back to the wonderful era of passenger train travel in Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

David wrote: "I was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to be transported back to that era in the early part of April 2010 when I re-connected with Michael Morris in Cranbrook. Tucked away in the south-eastern section of B.C. is a city that is home to a railroad museum whose main claim to fame is a collection of baggage, coach and sleeping cars from the first half of the last century. One of the cars on display is the C.P.R.'s sleeping car " Rutherglen " that is a member of the renowned 'R ' class of sleepers that were a staple on the Dominions that ran through Chapleau daily.

"They were a heavy car that stabilized the rock and rolling effect experienced on older cars with older suspensions. I recall my parents feeling quite fortunate upon learning that our sleeping car reservations indicated we'd be travelling in an "R" car and the ride was never disappointing. I specifically and unequivocally remember having travelled in the " Rutherglen " in the 40s because at the time I associated it with Wayne Riddell, the son of the CPR policeman in Chapleau, who'd often visit his grandmother in Rutherglen which is a small town on the CPR mainline between North Bay and Mattawa.

"To understand the reason behind the numerous round trips I was fortunate enough to be able to make with my Mother and sister Alison between Chapleau and Montreal on Trains # 8 and # 7 during the 40's through to the early 50's, one has to be aware of the fact that both my parents were born and raised in the Montreal area. According to his CPR record card, my Dad hired on as a fireman in Smith Falls, ON on December 18, 1918 and began his service in Chapleau on New Year's Eve 1919. Between this date and September 30, 1940 he was laid off / set up a total of 7 times each with the longest span being a ten year time frame during the Depression. During the span between 1929 - 1939 he worked in Montreal West, met and married my Mom and they ultimately began their family with my arrival just as the Depression was winding down. By 1941, the prospect of continuing employment was deemed sufficient enough to move the family to Chapleau which was completed sometime that year.

"CPR employees were eligible to apply for passes for free rail travel by their dependents and this was the crucial element that gave us the opportunity to make the trips to and from Montreal several times each year. Although the foliage changed depending upon the time of year ( lakes losing their winter coat of ice at Easter, the return of the trees' summer attire as we began our summer holidays away from the classroom, the leaves beginning to turn by the end of August as we headed back Chapleau and a new school year and snow galore during the Christmas - New Year's break ) the routine remained constant.

"The call to 149 ( why I remember that number so vividly I don't know ) began the process and almost before you hung up the phone Len Perfetto would be at the door to take our bags out to his taxi and off we headed over the infamous horseshoe bridge to the station to catch # 8 before its late afternoon departure for points East.

"From that point on, the pattern was consistent on virtually every trip. Shortly after departing Chapleau, someone from the dining car would come by our Section or Bedroom to determine our sitting preference for supper in the dining car. If I remember correctly, there were 3 time frames you could choose from that prevented line-ups and waits. The Steward would make 3 evenly-spaced return trips to the sleeping cars behind the diner that calling out " First call for dinner, second call for dinner " and so on. When our sitting time came, I can remember walking by the kitchen and marvelling at the way staff went about their duties over the stoves and standing in the aisle taking and writing up meal orders as the train continually rocked back and forth on the curves that abound on the Chapleau to Cartier portion of the trip.

"It wouldn't be too long after returning to our Section or Bedroom that we'd pull into Cartier and head for the lunch room which was the part of the station that was particularly popular with those travelling in day coaches. These passengers from cars at the front end of the train were only able to obtain a limited variety of foodstuffs ( chips, peanuts, pop and the like ) from the Newsie so the soup, sandwiches, pie and desserts available at the station lunch counters across the system were welcomed and very well utilized.

CPR Passenger Train at station in 1946
"Less than an hour later we'd roll into Sudbury after leaving the topography of the Canadian Shield behind for the time being and entering the pocket of farmland that stretches from Chelmsford through to North Bay. By this time dusk, and / or darkness depending upon the time of year, had set in and if you were fortunate enough with the timing, you were able to watch the sky glow red as molten slag was being dumped by the Inco mining operation in Copper Cliff.

"The Sudbury stop-over automatically came with a trip to the spacious restaurant at the west end of the station that, if I remember correctly, had a couple of horseshoe counters complete with stools and a menu that offered a variety of selections beyond those available in either Cartier or Chapleau.

"In later years the CPR reverted to operating one transcontinental train in each direction daily that was either split or amalgamated in Sudbury. Trains heading east were divided into sections destined for either Montreal or Toronto and the reverse took place when trains from Montreal and Toronto were combined into one train headed for Vancouver. This process usually took 45 minutes and one had to be very observant when getting back on board in order to reach your proper destination. I've often wondered how many passengers ended up heading South to Toronto when they were supposed to be going East to Montreal. As the age of majority was attained, a lot of us abandoned the CPR restaurant for the Ledo Hotel but this came with a necessity to keep an eye on the clock given that the Conductor or Head-end Brakeman weren't obligated to cross the street to the Ledo and holler " All Aboard ".

"Shortly after leaving Sudbury and retiring for the night we would put our shoes in a compartment that was basically a hole in the wall between our sleeping quarters and the aisle of the car. There were small doors on either side and the awe that came with waking up Christmas morning to find gifts under the tree was re-created the next morning when you opened the door of the compartment on your side and discovered freshly polished shoes that shone with their brilliance. I don't recall how old I was before I came to realize that this overnight magic was the work of the porter who oversaw our every need throughout the entire trip."

"North Bay was reached by midnight but by that time I'd be in the upper bunk dreaming, with anticipation, to the reunion with my Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle the next morning. With daylight coming so early in June, I always got a kick out of gazing out the window as we rumbled through the downtown cores of Pembroke, Renfrew, Arnprior, Carleton Place and a few others before reaching the Nation's Capital around 7:00 a.m.

"Until I was old enough to grasp an understanding of directions and the track routing, I was confused about why we had to cross the Ottawa River twice .. from Ottawa West where there was a head-end crew change, over the River to Hull and then past the mammoth E.B.Eddy plant with its piles of saw logs. Shortly thereafter a second Ottawa River crossing was made that took us along the Rideau Canal where, if you looked skyward you would be gazing at either Parliament Hill or the Chateau Laurier depending which side of the car you were sitting on.

"The Ottawa Station has been transformed into a Conference Centre and the multitude of tracks that were needed to accommodate the large number of local trains that served the area are long gone although they remain fresh in my mind. The two hour jaunt to Montreal took us over the flat farmland that is the St. Lawrence Lowland and the roadbed was, in most cases, flat and straight which gave the Royal Hudsons on the head-end a chance to let it all out. This capability came to the fore once the Ottawa River was crossed one more time and the island of Montreal reached at a point where the CPR and CNR mainlines run parallel for the 30 or so miles into the city. More often than not there would be a CNR train running alongside and I'm certain to this day there were friendly races taking place between the rival engineers. For entertainment along this stretch, I'd be on the lookout for aircraft heading to or from Montreal's Dorval airport and before long, it was into the Montreal West station and the arms of the the Quebec side of the family.

"In those years things didn't change as quickly as they do these days and one never dreamed that experiences of this sort would ever end. I've retained some pictures from those days and an inventory of memories that I look back on with a fondness and, at times, a longing to be able to return to a time when life appeared to be much simpler and not as complicated.

"To stand in the same aisle and walk between the made up upper berths that were a repeat of something I'd done 60 odd years ago generated a feeling of nostalgia that was both exhilarating and dumbfounding. With thoughts and recollections of all that had taken place in my lifetime between this 2010 visit to the Rutherglen and my 1940s connection with the exact same sleeping car was a definite appreciation of the experiences and opportunities afforded me while growing up in the Friendliest Town in the North "

Thanks for the memories David.

In 2001, David's sister Alison was here with her husband Michael McMullen and his brother Keith,( my cousins) to visit the railway museum (http://trainsdeluxe.com/ ), and Dr. G.E. "Ted" Young has also been here to visit. Gordie Woods drove Dr. Young's motor home across the country and we had a wonderful visit. During the railway museum tour, Dr. Young reminsced about train trips he took as a boy travelling with his family to visit family in British Columbia, as well as during the years when he was attending Queen's University to study medicine. He also recalled his trips back and forth to New York City by train when he was at Columbia University. "Let me tell you," as Dr. Young would often say, he impressed the tour guide with his first hand knowledge of the early days of passenger train travel. Warmest regards "Doc."

Other cars on display include the dining car Argyle, Somerset, Glen Cassie, River Rouge, and Day Parlour Car Number 6751.
My email is mj.morris@live.ca

PHOTO INFORMATION: Perhaps the McMillan family arrived home on this passenger train shown in a 1946 photo of the Chapleau CPR yards. Also in photo from left are water tank, ice house, smokestack of the C.P.R. power and steam plant, old original coal shutes for filling engine tenders, car barns, new coal shutes. Photo from Vince Crichton collection, courtesy of Dr. Vince Crichton

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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