CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Monday, February 28, 2011

McKerrow Section House

  The section house at McKerrow , Ontario was located south of the CPR line but very close to the track. The front door was about 10 feet from the main line . The main line was about 15 feet from Hwy 17 -The Trans Canada .

The house itself sat in a depression beside the track which flooded during spring melt and was marshy during the summer . The back yard was Cattails...so the house was slowly sinking at the back . It had a noticeable tilt from the outside . Inside , Mum said , you could place a ball on the floor by the front door and it would roll through the front room straight to the back wall in the kitchen ; then it would roll to the left and come to rest in the corner.

A Visit to Mattawa 1947

Mum and Dad were able to visit Mattawa regularly from Snake Creek . Here is a photo taken from the bridge over the Mattawa River in 1947 looking toward the Quebec side of the Ottawa River . The Mattawa River Bridge was replaced with a Steel bridge in the 1950's .

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Digging Through Old Photos

Here are a few photos that tie into my tales . More will follow as I locate them .

You can see how closely the Mattawa to Temiscaming run followed the Ottawa River on the Quebec side . In spring melt , portions of track would be under water for short periods of time . When the Otto Holden Generating Station was built , the track from the La Cave Rapids to Snake Creek was raised 10 feet higher to

Friday, February 25, 2011

The First Trials in Mattawa

After leaving Snake Creek in 1948 and moving into Mattawa , Dad and Mum spent about a year there . It was not the easiest of times socially but Mum made the best of things as they were . One benefit , to her , was the fact that she would be able to attend Church on a regular basis .

When she was still living in Stoke , England , from preteen until after her Father had been warned off , and before she went to work on a farm , Mum had spent every Sunday going from church to church , from village to village in her area . She would start off at an early mass at a Catholic Church at 7:00am , take in a Church of England service at 9:00 am and finish with a Methodist service at 11:00am . After the last , she would go to the public library and read ...her other pleasure .

Thursday, February 24, 2011

History of Railways and McKerrow

The AER (Algoma Eastern Railway ) heritage site has a quick overview of how McKerrow fits in to the history of the times . Take a moment to look through it , as it shows the story of the rise and fall of railways and towns through early days of mining , WW I , the Stock Market Crash 1929 , WW II to the present day . It presents the background of situation my father was working in 1950 .

http://www.magma.ca/  The AER Timeline

A brief history of the area along the spur line from McKerrow south to Manitoulin Island is presented on the Willis Family website .


To know the Aboriginal History of the Area and the Island , try exploring this site. There is a timeline that lays things neatly out in history as well as plenty of information to explain what was happening to Odawa and Ojibwe people over time in that area .


Homework ??? ...not if you are into it ... I see it as fun! It's all in your perspective . I like to be informed . It makes life so much easier .

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

McKerrow- Where is it ?

McKerrow was/is a small railway siding on the CPR branch line west of Sudbury , Ontario , south of Lake Agnew and north of Espanola . It is 1.5 km east of the Junction of the TransCanada Highway (17) and highway 6 ( to Espanola and Manitoulin Island ) . It is 3 km west of where the railway bridges the Spanish River .

 At highway speed it takes almost 3 seconds to pass . There is no reason to stop... well...perhaps slow down for the turn north to Lake Agnew or south for a back way into Espanola .

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fish Hatchery in Mattawa-Side Tracked

http://www.belangersoutdooradventures.com/There is a little local fish hatchery at Mattawa . Volunteers and people give freely of their money , time and efforts to ensure that the lakes and rivers will continue to provide for the wildlife and the people who use these places kindly .

During spawning season , male and female fish are netted for milking.

How Eagle Sees It

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Up Snake Creek Without a Paddle

The official news came through in 1948 .The section at Snake Creek was being closed down . A dam was being built at the LaCave Rapids . The River was going to rise so the railway from the dam site upriver to Temiscaming would have to be rebuilt . That meant rail traffic would be stopped on that run until the new rail line was built .

The lines that ran hugging the shore of the River since 1891 were to be moved further up from the River . They would turn north at Snake Creek to a  higher valley that gave a route past Lac Bangs and beyond- a 38 mile diversion-and would not return to the River until it reached Temiscaming . Peacock and McQuigge Ltd were building the Mattawa end because of the specialized work required blasting a way through the granite/gneiss hills . The Temiscaming end was being built by Therrien Construction .

A View from the Top

Looking across the Ottawa River into Mattawa River Valley from the Quebec side . This climb was an annual event during the first warm days of May. The urge was irresistible . Several of us would agree to skip afternoon classes in Highschool and make the climb. We would see other students who had the same idea . There were too many for the school to call home about . No one got upset ...much . The railroad bridge was access to cross the River . In busier days , timing was everything . 
photo taken by Angie Miller

I remember the empty barrels placed at intervals along the open part of the bridge . Apparently , if a train was coming you were supposed to high-tail it to the nearest barrel to be free from the train and getting blown into the River . It added to the excitement of doing something dangerous . Luckily the CPR was accurate in its timing .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Under Water Logging

Along the Quebec shore of the Ottawa River just upstream from the Capital , a unique kind of logging takes place . A very few specialized licenses are given to salvage companies that specialize in the underwater recovery of logs from the edges of the river .

These huge logs sometimes 5-6 feet across are leftovers from the Boom of the last quarter of the 1800's. Massive numbers of logs travelling the spring waters of the Ottawa River from the Mattawa area ended up near the Bytown(Ottawa) filling the River to its bottom - a chaotic crush of upended logs intricately intertwined - that would remind us of pickup sticks released . From this mass , logs were freed for milling into lumber , pried out of the tangle piling against the banks. Always in the process more logs from upriver crushed in behind . As a result of the unimaginable forces of jams and River , many logs were driven like arrows into the bottom of the River where they remained . Others were split like kindling under the pressure . Most of them are in tangled puzzles like the jams they came from . These companies may only retrieve a single log a week , but the value of one log boggles the mind.

Hey! What happened to the "Indians"?

I will deal with this immense and heart-rending part of Mattawa's story eventually . But for now consider these questions .

What happened to the fur bearing animals?...and what is happening?
What happened to the forests?...and what is happening?
What happened to the River?...and what is happening?

There you will find the story of the past , the present and the future . If you come up with a simple answer to any of these questions...then you haven't considered them long enough.

Take a second look and listen to ' The Ballad of Crowfoot'. There is a bigger connection to Mattawa than the obvious ones .

Understand that what is happening now is rooted in the past. What happens to everyone of us is rooted in the past . What happens to me is rooted in the past.

Hence 'True Tales' . Understanding .


Snake Creek -more

With the beginnings of tales for the family repetoire , Mum and Dad climbed aboard the passenger train at Tabarette heading toward Snake Creek .

Snake Creek was located on the east banks of the Ottawa River about half an hour's ride by train north of Mattawa . The CPR traced the river cutting by the canyons of the Laurentian Highlands and bridging creeks and rivers that emptied into the Great River . The area around the mouth of the creek created a level platform on which people had made camp over several thousand years ...a natural adit to the interior search for furs and a fishing spot to fill hungry stomachs .

 A small stop at Snake Creek in the 1890's gave passengers a break to stretch their legs in a walkabout .There were a few houses and a store that supported the CPR's trek to Temiscaming . While the train downloaded cargo and mail and took on other mail and orders from inhabitants along the line , passengers could dismount to vent their lungs clear of the sooty smoke that inevitably filtered into passenger cars from the powerful locomotives that pulled them north . Occasionally , a passenger got off or on the train . As in all small stops along the line , the local inhabitants always rushed to the station to see what news could be gleaned from what they saw and overheard .

The CPR employee who operated the mail/cargo car took on cargo and letters to be forwarded up or down the line . Inside the car , he sorted and labelled things as to which stop it was destined to reach and what transfer points may be required to get it to its destination . He then placed it in the the car according to how far it was to travel . Before the next stop , he had gathered the items for drop-off . When he rolled open the big door at the next official stop , freightage and mail was quickly off-loaded onto a freight cart at a station or into the arms of a designated receiver at a small stop ( like the store owner at Snake Creek ) . He took on what was waiting , along with the fees for shipping . Locals oftened slipped little messages and packages to  familiar passengers for drop off somewhere along the line to avoid paying the fees . The Snake Creek stop was still in use in late spring 1947 when my parents got off the southbound passenger train to take up residence .

Since all section houses were situated away from the activity around a station or stopping place , the Snake Creek house was located up the line near the signal switches . When locomotive engineers reached that spot , they knew the caboose was clear to pick up speed .
 This house was a big 'step up' from the Tabarette house since it had a closed-in back porch , a front veranda and a little storage shed out back near the outhouse ... all indications that a minor official had at least once occupied the house . Some unknown sectionman's wife had patiently maintained flowers beds at the front and they were in bloom that June when my parents approached for the first time .
  During the early stages of her pregnancy she felt lonely for her family , particularly her midwife sister and her Great Aunt Maud with whom she regularly corresponded . The isolation at Taberette magnified the loneliness . Although she was helped to overcome most of it , the last lingering pangs disappeared when she saw that flower bed . Visions of English country gardens filled her mind with plans to develop the existing one into the free ambling natural style she missed so much ...full of colour and blooms . A vegetable garden plot lay on the south side of the house , turned and already hoed into rows by the last sectionman's wife , part of the 'welcome to your new home' gift . It was a message that read , I loved this home and I hope that you do , too . Mum did .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Railway Bridge

Heading toward the Railway Bridge to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River at Mattawa. Notice a tugboat (centre) tied at tunnel that passes under the track for easy access to River . Boats were used to push log booms down the river . Log Booms were gathered on this downriver side of bridge in the bay created by the point of land that juts into the River . The whole bay was filled with logs with no space between . Pike men who ran on the logs orienting them for trip , sometimes slipped beneath the logs when one rolled . A sure death sentence . No way to escape drowning .   
A steam locomotive hauling passengers and freight to Temiscaming approaching the Bridge .This train would have gone through Snake Creek Siding ,Temiscaming , Tabarette , Fabre and to Ville Marie before the Dam .

The upstream side of RR Bridge from Explorer's Point beside the Mattawa River where it enters the Ottawa River. There is exposed shoreline which rarely was seen before the Dam at LaCave Rapids was built .Dry land under the railway bridge was extremely rare but is seen more often nowadays since the Dam is now run without people by a computer connection from the Chenaux Rapids Dam downriver closer to Ottawa . The foothill (Laurentian Mountains) across the River is the one that bears the three crosses at the summit . This picture was taken after the Dam 1952 but before 1962/3 (Diesel).

We can see how small the trees are in these photos taken in the late 50's . This is the regrowth of forests clear cut in 1880's .  The same amount of time has passed . The mountain is not covered in White Pine as it once was but a mixture of hard and softwoods growing on the thin pockets of soil on top of granite and gneiss .l

Highway 533

Across the Ottawa River from the CPR line Runs Hwy 533 . The history of this road has a significant bearing on this part of my True Tales .

Julian Ralph gives an accurate account of what the road was like in 1889 in his Harper's article ' Antoine's Moose-yard' . The initial part of the road he describes was in good form because it was continually used by horse drawn wagons and sleds between Mattawa and the portage at LaCave .
 The Steam boats only operated part of the year . Winter ( determined by snow and ice , not the calendar ) and high Spring melt waters prevented forwarding on the River so a regular well maintained road existed . Horse-drawn sleds regularly hauled small logs for local use - firewood and building projects . Larger logs stacked along the banks of the River during winter by lumbermen

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music and Film Adds to the Perspective

Take some time to enjoy these films made by the National Film Board of Canada .
Log Driver's Waltz (3 min)
Blackfly( 5 min.)
Voyageurs (19 min.)
Ballad of Crowfoot ( 10 min.)


The Sun sets on the River

Sis ,summer before 1st Birthday
 Mum and Dad's life in Snake Creek was content and happy . Between Dad's job and Mum's home industry (selling hand knitted socks and blueberry pies to the store) life with their baby girl was good . They now had a bed for her , since she had grown too large for the bottom drawer of their bedroom dresser which had served as her bassinet for the first winter and spring .

 They had a Victrola and a hand operated wringer for the laundry . The future looked bright and shiny for them in a house that they loved . But news was travelling quickly that something big was coming up the line that would greatly change life as they knew it .

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Caruso and Spaghetti

 After the Second World War , not just soldiers filled ships coming to Canada. When Mum came over after Dad , her ship was filled with war brides , children and immigrants from many different countries . CPR rail gangs often included men from Europe who were trying to make a place in Canada ...a place that they would be able to bring their families to once enough money was earned .

 During the summer of 1948 , a work gang was brought to the Northern run out of Mattawa to build new track . The gang cars were parked at the siding in Snake Creek . The men lived in these cars when they weren't working . A bunk car , a dining car , a kichen car and a wash car plus a row of freshly dug outhouses took care of their needs . If they wanted anything else , they would find that in Mattawa on the weekends . Most men came back on the last train on Sunday suffering from a 'wild' weekend and flat broke .

Dad noticed that there was one man who never went to town with the others . He spent the weekend alone and often on weekday evenings , he would walk the track or go sit near the river until

The Problem with Blackflies #1

Problem #1- Family Photos

Friday, February 11, 2011

Unwanted and Unloved Guests

Railroad gangs were brought in for building new track and for repairing old track during the good weather , which usually meant anytime after the frost left the ground until it returned in late October. This was hard work at the best of times but it was miserable work in Northern Ontario.

 May to June ...blackfly season . Blackflies rose from the high waters of spring melt and choked anyone outside , entering every oriface one could think possible . Every landing meant a piece of flesh disappeared . The warm , sweating bodies of gangs and section men alike were easier to bite . Their faces would be swollen from hundreds of bites . Eyes , ears and  hairlines bloodied by their pursuors . As long as it was daylight , there were blackflies . As long as a person was outside , there was a cloud of them contantly in motion around the head , relentless in their pursuit of flesh .

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hockey Night in Canada Snake Creek Style

A Little History

 The World knows that Canadians love hockey ('ice' hockey for those who don't realize that there is only one kind that counts). So much so that before TV and radio were invented , the third period of the 1896 Stanley Cup final was telegraphed as play by play messaging from a rink in Winnipeg to Toronto . The CPR had pushed through telegraph along with the railway which carried the results of games back and forth across the country in the fastest time ever . Special lines were put into the game site so the telegraph operator was at the actual game . Most definitely , hockey fans of the period would have stopped asking for the final score and wanted more...What is the score at this moment ? Who got the goal ? How are the crowds responding ? Some of those telegrams must have been exciting moments for fans crowded around the telegraph office in Toronto ...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Red Cap Service

The months passed as usual in a section house : lots of scrubbing and cleaning , working the garden ( although with less wildlife to chase) , picking berries and pie making and preserving ...and evenings filled with knitting .

Mom was asked by the storekeeper if she would make men's dress socks because there was a need . Men heading into town (Mattawa) on weekends were looking to him to carry socks that weren't worksocks . Going to town was an escape from their hard , spirit-breaking work  and just changing your style of sock was a lift to their mental health . Besides , they looked a lot better with their one and only suit for going to town , church , weddings and funerals . So it was arranged that he would bring in several colours of  fine wool for her to produce argyle-patterned dress socks for 75 cents a pair .  They were extremely popular and Mum continued this little home industry for the duration of life in Snake Creek .

 With her earnings , she purchased wool to make baby items like bonnets , dresses , leggings and booties for her baby's birth . On one trip to Mattawa , she bought what she could in the way of diaper flannelette , fabric dye and others needs with the money she had saved .

Monday, February 7, 2011

A New Paint Job

One of the first things Mum wanted to do in the new home at Snake Creek was give the rooms a fresh coat of paint . The colours were worn from the endless scrubbing that was required to rid the house of the soot that coated everything . Locomotives spewed a thick gummy black smoke that infiltrated every nook and cranny .The walls grew stained from a combination of soot and woodsmoke so were spot cleaned weekly . The scour marks showed that the previous homemaker had tried hard to stay ahead of the grime .

 A walk along the track trailed the soot into the house . But , the floors faired better than the walls . A weekly scrub with lye water made from the woodashes kept them bleached white . Mum always put a coat of paste wax over the top. When the wax was set , she would put on a pair of Dad's worksocks and skate around the house , buffing the floors to a glass finish . This made washing the floors easier since the soot could not lodge in the shiny surface .

Interior paint came in only two CPR colours:white and green . Even if Mum had wanted

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Antoine's Moose-yard

This is an article written about a moose hunt in Mattawa in 1889 or 1890 . Two americans from New York (writer Julian Ralph and artist Frederic Remington) headed into the forest around Mattawa to get a moose . There are descriptions of the area and the people that are interesting . The depiction of the devastation of lumbering in Mattawa itself is telling . The effects of 'development' on the Aboriginal population apparent as well as the attitude of these visitors . The picture of the HBC store is accurate to the time . It's worth a read . The article was in Harper's Magazine in 1890 .

Section House-Snake Creek

 The possessions seen onto a freight train at Tabarette were duely delivered outside the 'new' house at Snake Creek , by the time Mum and Dad arrived . This of course meant that everyone at this stop on the CPR knew that they would be on the next passenger train coming south .

The locals would also know everything that they owned ; that Mum was pregnant ; that she was ' d'Angleterre' ; that she and Dad had just come through a rough time in their marriage ; that she could knit, embroider, preserve and garden ; and that she had already tangled with a moose, bears, skunks and a roadmaster (and survived) , so she was someone to be respected . Everyone of the few who lived in Snake Creek at the time was present to see the person attached to the stories...she was news ...an oddity ...a little bit scary .

When Dad stepped off the train , laughing and greeting those at the side of the track waiting near the store , he helped Mum down to the ground . She wore her best blouse for the trip -the sugarbag one with embroidered flowers- to make a good 'first impression' . People greeted her warmly , but shyly . She in turn thanked them for the welcome and smiled her appreciation , although she was embarrassed that she was getting so much attention . After being introduced to all present , she and Dad headed down the track toward the section house .The locals lingered to determine the first impression , and a couple of children followed my parents at a polite distance .

Section houses were always located away from the business of passengers and parcels , so they had to walk a bit before they came their new home . What greeted Mum ( Dad had already seen the house in passing many times ) lifted her out of any lingering worry and concern . At the front , there were flowers ...beautiful colourful blooms that a sectionman's wife had lovingly planted and maintained to beautify her home ...a woman's touch ... saying 'welcome to your new home . I loved my garden and now I pass it to you .'  She took the time to examine every plant , naming them aloud for Dad before finally turning her attention to the house .

Compared to the Tabarette house , this one was a big step up .As with all section houses , it must have been built for some minor official back when the new line to the north was being built . At that time , Snake Creek would have been an important location .

This house was set back from the track more and lay near the creek .It had a front veranda . Attached to the back door was a closed-in porch and there was a small shed outback near the outhouse ( a double seater ) . The inside of the house was worn , but immaculately clean and the windows sparkled like jewels . Out back ,  there was a real clothesline , not just a rope tied from tree to tree , and a washstand to accomodate the laundry tub for washing clothes outside during the summer . To the side of the yard Mum and Dad saw a vegetable garden plot already turned and hoed into rows ready for planting ...the final surprise gift left by the former homemaker that shouted to her , " You still have enough time to plant this year's garden ."

It didn't take long for Dad and Mom to locate their bits of furniture since they were familiar with the floorplan . Soon , all was in it's place including the embroidered flourbag curtains on the kitchen windows . Together , they found the seeds Mum had left from last year and placed them into the waiting rows .
Then a few bucketfuls of water completed the planting task . The other work , could wait until tomorrow . Mum was content to sit with Dad and a cup of fresh tea sharing hopes and plans for their new home before the usual work beckoned . She could already see that would be a little lighter , the location a little less lonely and that it would be a good place for their first child to grow .

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snake Creek

In early June 1947 , my parents disembarked one of the two southbound passenger trains in Snake Creek , PQ . Mum was three months pregnant for her first child and this stop on the northern line was only half an hour's train ride from Mattawa . In an emergency , there would be someone around to help . When Mom's time came ,  near or about the beginning of November , she would have more options available for a trip to Mattawa Hospital . It all depended on timing...with lead up time, the passenger train ; in times between , one of the freight trains ; if no train was available , at home with a neighbour's help .

Snake Creek had always been an inviting stop for hundreds , perhaps thousands of years along the Ottawa River . The flow of the creek had filled a canyon bottom with fine sand and silt , which widened into flats where it emptied into Kichiziibii , the Great River . The creek carved its way through these flats in a path that was its name . In the far past , the creek would have been the adit for trapping beaver and hunting moose up the canyon in habitats created by it .

When the CPR line was built in the late 1800's , the North line crossed the bridge that spanned the Ottawa at Mattawa and traced the River's east bank north to Temiscaming . Snake Creek was a scheduled stop on the line from that time the railroad construction raced forward .

When passenger trains began moving soon after the first freight trains , Snake Creek was a welcome break from the  sooty smoke that seeped into the coachcars from locomotive exhaust . Riders would disembark for walkabout to clear their lungs and chat with the locals . Every passenger train that stopped attracted local inhabitants to the track ...men , women , children and the dogs raced excitedly into position when they heard the steam whistle signal its slowing . When the locomotive gushed to a stop in a great burst of steam , everyone was in place to see who was getting off ; who was getting on ; what had been unloaded and loaded ; and what news was there from up and down the line . Any news was contact with a bigger world and every morsel was vital nourishment .

 A continual ringing of the engineer's brass bell and the ensuant 'All aboar-rrd' sent passengers scuttling with small packages and messages to forward up or down the line . The three quick blasts of the steam whistle pushed local people back from the track...the signal that the train was ready to pull out . The waving party shouted farewells to one and all until the locomotive built up enough steam to move the huge crankarms that slowly forced the wheels and the train into motion .

Children excitedly raced forward alongside the tracks to be in a place where their waves would be noticed . They were thrilled when such exotic personages as engineers , firemen , and conductors happily waved goodbye with great beaming smiles on their faces , too . Every so often , one engineer would give a little toot to acknowledge them and the children would cheer his passing . This entourage waited in the middle of the track waving to the conductor until the train was out of sight or he entered the caboose . Children stayed until the last long blast from the whistle announced that the train had cleared the yard and was at speed . Then they raced home to add the final tidbit of news that measured the trainmen's character on the quality of their smiles and the time they spent waving goodbye to the children .

This continued until well after WW II . When it was my generation's turn ( 1950's,60's) the locals , with the exception of those who had business at the station , had abandoned the habit . But the children of sectionmen and other families who lived along the track never failed to respond to that first long whistle .

And they were all there when the last steam locomotive made its last stop before the CPR switched to diesel in 1963 .

Friday, February 4, 2011

Goodbye Tabarette

Mum and Dad had lived in Tabarette for about a year when in the early spring of 1947 , Dad noticed Mum knitting socks that were not the usual work socks . They were tiny and white . At his surprised and questioning look , she announced that she was pregnant . "How do you know ? (That was how my Dad told the story. )

"The same way every woman knows ," she answered . What she didn't tell him then , was that her Mother had visited her . Her mother was long dead , but Mum told me how she had seen her one day that February when the missed menstral cycle sent her into a great fear and loneliness that she had only experienced at her Mother's death . She explained how she had cried out for her , something she hadn't done since the sexual abuse by her Father . Then she saw her standing there by the stove smiling . Mum told how a peaceful calm settled in her heart and the fear and lonliness " just disappeared ". " And do you know ? She was there for every one of my children's births ...even the lost ones ."

 Dad was happy that they were going to become a family ( although it led to a period where he and Mum went through some rough water - for another blog not this ). In his style , he quickly let everyone know that Mum was pregnant  and it wasn't long until the news spread along the line . Then the advice started to roll in from family men and 'pie eaters' alike .

The predominant point of view was that Dad should see about transferring in to Mattawa section because a pregnant woman in that kind of isolation was not a good idea . Four hours by train was a long trip , even with two trains a day , timing could not be guarranteed .

Mum was willing to use a midwife , a custom she was familiar with in England . Her oldest sister was a trained midwife and several times she pressed Mum , a young girl , into service for local births when no other woman was available in the home to help . On the farm , she had helped out with the lambing so was familiar with those processes . She felt that she could handle the birthing ...in the sense that she knew what was going to happen and what was needed . But , she was alone , she had no family there to support her , and no one to jump to service when the time came ... other than Dad . He still had to work . He was sure that it would happen while he was out walking the section and became very worried that it could be hours before he found her in the throes of birth .

Dad applied to move into the Mattawa section but there were no positions available to him . He hadn't built up enough senority to be considered . He explained that the situation was serious and would take anything that was closer to Mattawa . Getting his wife to a hospital for the birth was essential , especially since it was her first child . So , when a position came open at Snake Creek , an hour train ride north of Mattawa , the men along the line made sure that Dad was the only one who applied for the transfer ...and it came with a section house .

Mum and Dad packed up their possessions for the freight train to carry .Two small wooden crates , a bed and dresser , two coal oil lamps , a table and two chairs , their secondhand couch and chair , a little oval table that Dad had made from scraps of lumber from a boxcar to hold the lamp , the washtub filled with miscellaneous items , Dad's duffelbag and a steamer trunk waited beside the track . After a thorough house cleaning , including the storm windows left leaning against the back of the house , my parents said a nostalgic goodbye to their 'honeymoon' home . Mum placed the broom right next to the front door with a note welcoming the next family "... and keep the broom handy ."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CPR logo - The Beaver

The Beaver was chosen because it represented the hard working nature of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It also created a lot of work for CPR section men who were contantly pulling apart beaver dams that threatened to flood or wash away the lines . Many a train derailment was caused by a washout created as a result of busy little beavers working in the area .

I often wonder what Aboriginal people thought about hoisting this as an emblem . To them , the beaver was not to be admired at all . NO! to all the negative racial stereotypers out there ...it is NOT because ' Indians are lazy.' 

The beaver displayed some negative behaviours that were not to be emulated by humans . It was never used as a clan animal because of its nature to mate with its young . It is a little too hardworking that way and thus reproduces itself quickly . I suppose that might have been a reason they were happy to trap them out for the European market way back when .

There are more beaver in Canada now than there has ever been to which anyone with a dream home in a rural setting next to a babbling brook can attest . 

Garden in the Bush

Fresh vegetables were rare and in Northern locations , other than beans and root vegetables , there was little fare to be ordered up with the supplies .
During her first winter , Mum made plans to put in a garden come spring . She ordered seeds in from Montreal to arrive by May .
The days lengthened and warmed until finally the soil was beginning to thaw . Mum chose a sunny spot not too far from the back door that she thought would have enough soil to grow what she planned : beans and root vegetables it was .
The ground never saw a spade , or pick axe as it would have it , but determination , a lot of sweat equity and Dad's help produced a small garden plot by the end of May . Dad wasn't too sure that they would get the results that Mum hoped for , but he indulged her.

Mum carefully hoed the plot into rows and planted seed precisely to instructions on the envelopes : two rows of carrots , two rows of beets , two rows of yellow wax beans ...all things she could preserve in jars when the time came . With the blueberry preserves and these , there would be treats for Christmas and visitors during the winter .

Throughout June and into July , Mum and Dad carted water from the spring and collected rainwater in the washtub for watering the plants every few days . Each evening they spent a few minutes weeding . By the middle of July , they were eating beans and beet tops with supper ... the best reward for hard work in a garden .

One early morning just after Dad had left to fill the switch lamps , Mum headed out to the outhouse . As she was returning , she could see beyond the house  , a large animal in her garden with greens carrot tops hanging from its mouth . She headed for the garden , grabbing the broom off the back step as she flew by . Who did he think he was eating her carrots ?

She yelled and ran towards it waving her broom in the air . All it did was raise its head , look unconcerned in her direction and proceed to tear out another mouthful of tender young carrots . Mum was not put off her task . She was more than familiar with chasing animals out of the gardens on the farm , so she felt no fear doing the same with this one . Using the broom to swat its withers she finally got the reluctant animal moving . Soon it drifted back to the bush and she repaired the damage , gathering small carrots from the ground to cook up with supper .

When Dad returned after work , she described the animal in answer to his questions . She was still more than annoyed over it .
" Was it a bear ?"

"No , it wasn't a bear! . I know what a bear is ! It was bigger ."

"What colour was it ?"

" It was dark brown ...a bit bigger than a farm horse ... and it had wide horns ."

Dad immediately went out to find its tracks . He came in shaking his head and told her she had chased a moose out of the garden . Then , he roared with laughter and explained a few things about moose to her . " You're lucky it didn't charge you ...it could have killed you ."

" Well he shouldn't have been eating my carrots !" 

This story like others made it way up and down the line - one about a feisty English war bride who had mistaken a moose for a beaver ( my Dad's addition) and sent it running in fear back to the bush off the end of her broom .

Cold as Ice

During the spring and summer , Sundays were the time that Mum and Dad left all thoughts of work behind for rest , relaxation and fun . That was Picnic day !
Each Sunday , they would pick a different location somewhere in the vicinity to explore . Mum would pack a lunch and they would head up or down the track to find access to a new Eden and laze away another Sunday .

Once a spot was found , Dad started a tea fire and they would root around discovering what surprises the place offered while the teapail boiled up . After tea and sandwiches ,they went to see what fun and mischief they could devise .

In from the track a few miles up , Dad spotted a pristine lake . The water was clear as glass , everything on it's gravel bottom exposed to sight . Most lakes in that part of the country were deep and dark showing no hint of what lay beneath . So this diamond was tantalizing to them both . It must have been a special place to someone in the past because on the shore they found an abandoned fishing boat .Perhaps it belonged to a former occupant of the section house .

Dad decided to launch the boat so he and Mum could take a ride on the lake . The two of them dragged the boat into the water and Dad poled it a little deeper . It soon became evident why it had been abandoned . Time and neglect had made it "as leaky as a sieve" . Mum , a nonswimmer , refused to go any further and climbed out . She waded back to shore and refused to succumb to Dad's encouraging disclaimers .

Dad poled it out a little deeper announcing that he was going to have a little swim before heading back in to shore . He stood on the prow , struck his best diving pose for his wife , and gracefully slipped under the surface of the water .

In less than a few seconds , he reappeared on the prow of the boat having launched himself out of the lake . " Holy Mother of C***** that's cold ," he howled .

Mum erupted into peals of laughter that didn't subside for the whole time it took for Dad to pole the boat ( now full of water to within a few inches of the gunnels ) back to the warmer edges of the lake where it became moored to the bottom .  The whole time ...and it was a long time...Dad cursed and denounced the trick played on him by nature . Mum laughed at this picture of 'Adonis grounded' until she "peed her pants".

So the two of them rekindled the fire and sat while Dad warmed up and her 'laughing accident' evaporated in its heat .

Lesson: Clear , gravel-bottomed lakes in the north are , nine times out of ten , spring fed wells that are as cold as ice .

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Damn Skunk

During the summer , on Washing Days , the cookstove was busy all day heating the water for the laundry . Mum's habit was to throw open the front and back door in the section house at Tabarette so the intense heat and steam would clear the house - and maybe keep it below 90F if possible .

One day she came in from hanging clothes on the line to find a skunk wandering around the kitchen . As was her usual style she grabbed her broom , slowly and carefully ...she knew what a skunk was by that time . As was the usual style of a skunk , it continued to explore the kitchen , not bothered by Mum's presence at all . ( Thank heaven !) Skunks are rarely intimidated -often startled but rarely intimidated .They keep going about their business fairly sure that no one will mess with them .

Mum waited until the skunk was facing the door then swept the skunk along quickly with a continuous round of  'bum swats' right through the house and to the front door , where she gave it one last lift through the door and onto the track . Then she slammed the door and shut the front window  preparing for what was to come .

The skunk was a little stunned from the last landing and danced in circles in the middle of the track looking for the culprit . Needless to say , it spritzed a good sized area out front...but not inside .

After work my Dad entered the house in a rush to clear the spray zone and announced that he thought the train must have caught a skunk on the track . Mum assured him that the train hadn't . She explained the reason for the smell . He broke in a roar of laughter telling her she was crazy trying a stunt like that .

"Well you said it couldn't spray if it's back legs weren't on the ground . So , I made sure they didn't touch the floor ."

"Why didn't you put him out the back door ? It was closer !"

"I just hung up my clean laundry . Do you think I wanted him to spray back there ? Damn skunk !"