CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Friday, January 28, 2011


 My Dad worked his whole life for the CPR. He began working for them  during the first years of WW II . At this time , there weren't many career opportunities in small Northern Ontario towns . Without means,privilege or a greater education , even in better times , the best a young man could hope for was a job in Lumbering or with the Canadian Pacific Railway .

Dad had lost his mother by the time he was nine years old , near the end of the Depression ,  the youngest of at least 8 - two sisters and five brothers in the home . His parents had owned a bakery which was reknown in the area . After her death , the bakery failed when his Dad turned to alcohol
-his children forgotten . The older children fended for themselves , but being the youngest he was taken in by relatives . He spent the next years moving from Tante to Tante until he was a teenager .

These were hard years for everyone . At fourteen , Dad quit school in anger and desperation to escape the abuse he faced daily . He and at least two of his brothers suffered corporal punishment at the hands of Nuns and sexual abuse by the parish priest .

As a young girl , when I listened to my uncles talking with Dad about their childhood , I didn't comprehend such things . I didn't know that being sent to the church by the Nuns from class to help the priest  with Mass and ' pump the organ' , was code for the sexual abuse they suffered regularly at his hands . Their secret language and knowing looks shared the anger and pain that they were not allowed to speak of openly . I only understood that they were saying more to each other than I knew , or would be allowed to know for many years .

At fourteen , he got by taking any odd job available until he was nearly 16 . By that time , the War was in full swing , and many men had enlisted from Mattawa . All of his brothers were gone overseas , too . That left openings in the job market . So , Dad got on as a section man  at the CPR - the lowliest job , with back breaking work and meagre pay .

The minute he turned 18 ,  he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Petawawa , and headed overseas to England . He was worried he was going to ' miss the War ' since it was already 1941 . In England , he was trained in the tank corps  ( affectionately refered to as 'Cowboys' for their tank handling style ) . It was then , that he met my Mum - a soldier in the British Army Signal Corps .

My Mother , Mum , was born in the town of Norfolk in the Midlands . She had lost her mother at the age of seven making life very hard for her siblings as well . Once they had left the home , Mum was left behind with a sexually abusive father . She was glad when she got an opportunity to get on a children's ship  to go to Canada for the duration of the War . But as luck would have it , her father refused to let her go and she missed the boat . As hard as it was for her to remain with her father , she was alive .The ship was sunk by German Subs in the North Atlantic . All aboard perished .

Mum fantasized  about sailing to Canada and 'riding off into the sunset' with a cowboy named Gene to live 'happily everafter' . She was much affected during this period by two movies she had seen - one with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald ( which , by the way , had scenes filmed near Mattawa along the Ottawa River ) and another starring Gene Autry .

Finally , she told her Great Aunt Maud about what she was going through at home . Her grandfather's sister warned her father off . She remained safe but uncomfortable until at age 14 she was allowed to go to work on a farm in the country , as part of the War effort in England . As soon as she was 18 , she enlisted in the British Forces in 1944 , a year before the end of the WW II .

After meeting a " cheeky and persistant " Canadian soldier named Eugene , who walked miles to be with her at every opportunity , she finally succumbed to his charm and laughter . They shared their stories and discovered many experiences were the same in their lives to that point . She grew to love and trust him .

Permission came through for them to marry . They did so on March 15 , 1945 ...the Ides of March ?!?!

At the end of the War , Dad had to leave his Bride behind while he returned to Canada with the other troops . Mum followed with other War brides , children and immigrants a few months later .

Together ,  they began a life in Northern Ontario and Quebec with the CPR playing an ever present role .

She got her 'cowboy' named 'Gene' and she was riding into her sunset behind an Iron Horse .


Anonymous said...

Isn't that spooky , how two people an ocean apart had similar experiences and then come together .

A very moving episode Christine .

thepowmill said...

There were other strange things that happened . My Dad who had never in his life left Mattawa until he joined the forces ended up stationed near a small town in England . The eerie thing for him was that he knew where everything was in the town as well as the names of some people and long gone relatives. All he could say to his curious fellow soldiers was that he had dreamed of this place when he was quite young...strange.