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Watercolour illustration of Lake of Killarney, Ireland, circa 1820


Canadian Pacific Railway, 1920

ARCHIVED - Canada, by Train

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The travelogues are gleaned from many different sources and are arranged alphabetically by railway company.

Crossing the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island on the CN, by ferry:

"That evening things were running late due to heavy tourist traffic. One tourist got the wheels of his trailer caught in the rail recesses of the ferry deck holding us up for another twenty minutes.... We were getting so far behind schedule that the crew made arrangements with the station agents to drive some local passengers to their destinations. Those of us "from away" had to stick it out on the mixed train. Finally, around two o'clock Thursday morning, we arrived in Charlottetown."

Hardy, John. Canadian rail travel: a photographic record of passenger train journeys 1964-1991. Hanover, Ontario: Hardy, J.R., 2001. P. 36

Lorne Brisbin, on the workday of a fireman:

"The first thing you'd do after you stowed your lunch pail was to check your firebox to see there were no bad leaks and your water glass wasn't leaking and there was oil in your lubricators. Then you'd climb up on the tender and check your coal and water. It wasn't uncommon to put eighteen tons of coal through in a day or a night. You'd get a chance to get a cup of water, sit down for a minute or maybe eat half a sandwich....You would know when to put on more coal by the steam gauge- ... When your fire started to get oily and dirty looking you were firing too heavily."

Mackay, Donald. The people's railway: a history of Canadian National. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992. P. 165

Frank Lapointe, part of a CNR train crew, on the situation during the Second World War:

"They'd brought out a lot of stuff that had been stored for years. Some of the engines were antiques. Breakdowns were pretty frequent, but we tried to do the best we could. It was real busy. The freight trains were running. Freight and passenger cars were coming all the time from the west. Everything was crowded."

Mackay, Donald. The people's railway: a history of Canadian National. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992. P. 134

An excerpt from Frank Rowbottom's diary, about immigrating to Saskatchewan in 1907:

"May 3. Friday
Caught the 8:30 train for Marshall and prepared for the most trying part of the journey, for we could not get sleeping berths without paying a great deal for them, so had to extemporize a couch for the little ones at night as well we could, and sit up ourselves. The train was very crowded, which made it still more unpleasant."

Rowbottom, Frank. "The Rowbottom diaries". Edited by S.W. Jackman. Saskatchewan history. Vol. 21, no. 1. P. 61

"Dec. 13 [1906]
Boarded train at C.N. station [at Winnipeg] just after 8.30, but she did not move out until about 11.30.... The engines on this line are continually "drying" as they call it here, that is, the steam gives out and then the whole affair freezes up, causing a delay of something like 8 hours until fires are again lighted and everything thawed. Fortunately our engine did not die this journey, but the one in front had died two or three times in a 24 hour journey."

Rowbottom, Frank. "The Rowbottom diaries". Edited by S.W. Jackman. Saskatchewan history. Vol. 21, no. 1. P. 57-58

"At this time [sometime before the First World War] the settlers were arriving in droves. While some passenger trains arrived with many new settlers from Central Europe other freight trains were arriving with many cars of settlers and their effects from the United States destined to points in Western Canada. Whole families would be confined to one end of a boxcar with their livestock partitioned off with their personal effects in the rest of the car. The noise of these trains and the livestock as they passed through the town and through the necessary switching moves was terrific."

Bradford, Jack. Canadian Northern Railway and the men who made it work. Toronto: Initiative Publishing House, 1980. P. 9

George McElroy arriving in Regina to join the NWMP:

"On a blustery March day in 1898, I stepped down from a colonist car at the CPR station in Regina carrying all my wordly possessions. These consisted of a rolled blanket tied with a strap and a red gin box that had been filled with grub when I left home several days earlier.... My God, but Regina was a wind-swept desolate place! All I could see were a few wooden buildings around which the bone-chilling wind howled incessantly. At first the railway station seemed deserted but, after a few moments, I noticed an authoritative-looking figure headed in my direction... This was sergeant Bill Hefferman whose duty it was to meet all trains and intercept any suspicious or undesirable visitors."

"McElroy of the NWMP". Beaver. Vol. 69, no. 3 (1989). P. 17


Excerpt of an interview with G.H. Needler, about travelling to Saskatchewan to help quell the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, circa 1956
(running time: 5 m 49 s; in English)

[RM 4,152 B] Download Freeware


Allen Gibson travelling by Dominion Atlantic Railway:

"The railway knew the train as Number 100. Passengers, who sometimes waited long chill hours on station platforms, knew it by other names among which 'The Fast Freight' possibly is to be preferred. Even that was a misnomer because it was neither fast nor a freight. To be sure, it hauled freight cars. But it also had a baggage car, a passenger coach (in which people slept soundly in all manner of uncomfortable positions) and a sleeping car (its passengers assuaging their feelings of guilt for having spent the night in comfort by insisting, 'never slept a wink, all that shunting and jolting...!'"

Gibson, Allen. Train time: nostalgic glimpses of a Wolfville boyhood. Lancelot Press Ltd.: Windsor, N.S., 1973. P. 23

An anonymous traveller describing the trip between Yarmouth and Halifax, by stagecoach:

". . . To be jolted and tossed about in an inferior vehicle, with lean horses, over a notoriously rough and sometimes dangerous road, for the distance of 200 miles; to be exposed during this journey, occasionally in an open conveyance, to the pelting storm, and to be compelled to vacate your seat over and over to help the poor horses drag the coach up the hills ... — and, besides all, to be asked to hand over for this rough usage a pretty good sum in hard cash — to endure all this requires no ordinary amount of nerve..."

Woodworth, Marguerite. History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway. Kentville, Nova Scotia: Kentville Publishing Company, 1936. P. 88

"The formal opening of the Sherbrooke Eastern Townships and Kennebec Railroad took place on Thursday, the 22nd ult. This road runs from the active and ambitious town of Sherbrooke ... in a north eastern direction towards Quebec. It will open up a large extent of fertile country, and is destined one day to become a great highway of travel and traffic between the New England States and the Lower St. Lawrence."

"The Cdn Illustrated News August 8 and Nov. 7, 1874". The Eastern Townships, a pictorial record. C.P. deVolpi and P.H. Scowen. Montréal: DevSco Publications Ltd., [s.d.]. Plates 70, 73

Teresa Girardi, travelling on the Coal Branch line of the Grand Trunk Pacific in 1917 or 1918:

"The train trip was really something to remember. From Blairmore to Edmonton where dad met us was not too bad, but from Edson to Mountain Park was terrible. It took one day and one night to go from Edson to Mountain Park. The train, it must be a museum coach now -- old wooden coach, wooden slat seats, coal oil lamps nailed to brackets on coach walls, and an old wood and coal stove for heat. If you wanted air in the coach, the brakeman would come along with a long handled stick with a hook on the end to open the vent in top of the coach. I won't forget that as I still have the scar from one of the vent windows which was jerked too hard, fell out and crashed down and the glass cut my arm."

Ross, Toni. Oh! The Coal Branch, a chronicle of the Alberta Coal Branch. Edmonton: T. Ross, 1974. P. 263

F. Hamilton going from Cacouna, Quebec to the Maritimes, circa 1876:

At 2 o'clock the train arrived in sight, and after many efforts stopped about five hundred yards (above) it the station, another illustration of the proverb "The more haste, the less speed." This, I afterwards ascertained from the conductor, was owing to an accident to the patent air brakes; two of the tubes of which had burst, thereby rendering the vacuums partly inoperative. The same official said he had patched them up as well as he could, but had some of the more nervous passengees [sic] been aware that they had travelled with broken air brakes below them, I fancy they would have been somewhat anxious. Of course the mishap was unforseen, but the incident should be mentioned. Trifles such as these sometimes give birth to 'Appalling Accidents' and 'Coroner's Inquests.'"

Hamilton, Frederick J. A trip over the Intercolonial including articles on the mining industries of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick: with a description of the cities of St. John and Halifax. [Montreal? : s.n.], 1876. P. 7

"Call it what you may. The PGE, Wacky Bennett's Folly, or the new name the government put on it a while back, the BCR... There was a train that went to Prince George in the 1960s. A local merchant was waiting on the platform with his brother at Quesnel. They were going hunting north of Prince George. The train pulled in and the merchant glanced at his watch and beamed. He saw the engineer coming towards him, and he said, 'Good job, fella. You're right on time. Two o'clock exactly.' The engineer could've kept his mouth shut but he didn't. 'Don't congratulate me, mister,' he said. 'This is yesterday's train. We're twenty-four hours late'."

Ferguson, Ted. Sentimental journey: an oral history of train travel in Canada. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1985. P. 164

Anonymous New England tourist reporting on the Quebec Central Railway, ca 1880s:

"In half-an-hour or less a bird's-eye view of Lennoxville is enjoyed, the train, by some mysterious doubling upon its course, having taken a horse-shoe bend while we were admiring the pluck of the farmers who have conquered the rough face of nature so well upon these upland slopes.
...The "habitants" who make short journeys by rail are accompanied to the stations by their friends and relatives. One hears but little English. A constant clatter of patois is kept up by the native passengers, who also show a strong desire to express themselves in song."

Car window glimpses en route to Quebec, by daylight, via Quebec Central Railway. New York: Leve & Alden, 1881? [Reprinted in Quebec by Page-Sangster Print Co., 1952.] P. 8, 15

"Woman's Work in Canada, 1913

'Colonist' cars are adaptable to sleeping in at night, free of charge. The cars are usually not upholstered. What is known as an 'outfit", consisting of mattress, curtains, pillow, etc., may be bought for about $3 from the railway agent at the landing port, before starting on the rail journey."

Bruce, Jean. The last best west. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside. P. 53

Hugh Keenleyside:

"We actually had two trains. The blue and silver Royal Train for the King and Queen and their entourage and a green and maroon train for the press and security people. Have you heard about the buzzer? The engineer of the Royal Train had a buzzer in his cab. If he saw a large crowd at a rural depot where the train wasn't stopping he pressed the buzzer and the Royal Couple hurried to the observation-car platform to wave.
Journeying to the West, I often joined the Royal couple in their dining-car. The table was beautifully set, of course, with gleaming silverware and crystal and the meals were superb."

Ferguson, Ted. Sentimental journey: an oral history of train travel in Canada. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1985. P. 226

E. McKenna travelling from Montréal to Chicago in 1881:

"...The train runs fast through a very interesting country, and the conductor is a daisy who gives us a pleasant time. We had a specimen of country people get on the train here [at Stratford]; a hardy lot of big lankey [sic] half American chaps, with plenty of backbone and muscle; a good stock for a new country. We had quite a chat with some of them and enjoyed ourselves immensely."

McKenna, Euguene. A railway trip to the sunny south from notes by a railroad conductor. [S.l. : s.n.], 1881. P. 6-7

Excerpt from a letter by an unknown English immigrant, circa 1930:

"The journey to Edmonton was devoid of excitement. We just stayed in an empty box-car and talked, smoked, ate, slept. Diamond behaved like a veteran the way he slept in that jumping, rattling car was envious.... Next morning we opened our bedrooms & observed mountains. We had jumped the wrong train & were headed for Vancouver. It was too late to turn back so we gave up any idea of more threshing.
There were about twenty other passengers on the train. We spent our days perched on top of the cars and nights inside the empty refrigerator. Only on top of a box-car can one enjoy the real thrill of constructing that line through the Rockies . . ."

"Experiences of a Depression hobo." Letter written to Violet McNaughton. Saskatchewan history. Vol. 22, no. 2. P. 63

Letter from J.E. Woodall, the Anglican Archdeacon of Temiskaming, quoting his predecessor, Bishop Holmes, on the proposed extension of the line to Hudson Bay:

"Woodall! What a country! When will that line reach Moose? Toronto needs to breathe sea air. Right here where we are now sitting there will be a magnificent hotel and on yonder sandy beach bathing houses and bathers galore. Coming and going from that little harbor where now there comes one ship a year there will be a daily packet steamer to and from Moose. Then think of fresh fish in Toronto and Winnipeg caught the previous day in the Bay."

Surtees, Robert. The northern connection: Ontario Northland since 1902. Toronto: Ontario Northland and Captus Press, 1992. P. 148

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