CPR Section House

CPR Section House

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 .

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