Sentimental Journey Oral history of train travel in Canada w/DJ

Sentimental Journey Oral history of train travel in Canada w/DJ

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Sentimental Journey Oral history of train travel in Canada w/DJ
 
Sentimental Journey Oral history of train travel in Canada By Ted Ferguson  Dust Jacket Copyright 1985   246 Pages
The residents of Frobisher, Saskatchewan, usually began drift- ing towards the railway station ten minutes before the evening train was due to arrive. On warm summer nights, or in the freezing grasp of winter, a small band of curious locals wound through the streets to watch the most improbable of entertainment events - the unloading of the 8:15 from Regina. The merchandise leaving the baggage car was carefully studied to see who was getting what from the T. Eaton Company. A disembarking stranger created speculation and rumour: Was it the new teacher? A hardware salesman? Yet another victim for the foul cooking at Mrs. MacGillivray's boarding house?
As much as anything else, the nightly trek to the Frobisher depot - and to hundreds of other small-town Canadian stations in the 1920s and 1930s - symbolized the vibrant role the railways once played in this country. Physically, they tamed 3,000 miles of obstinate land. Spiritually, the train was a familiar constant in a shifting world and, as such, it had an unalterable effect on people's emotions. Canadians honeymooned, formed durable friendships, survived savage storms, went to war, drank and, occasionally, gave birth to babies on trains. The railways carried immigrants west and returned with wheat and lumber. To have a railwayman in your family was a reason to be proud; engineers and conductors were almost as glamorous as hockey players. For more than sixty years, since the pounding of the last spike at Craigellachie in 1885, the railway dominated Canada.
Branch lines spoked out from every major centre, reaching villages and towns where, if roads to other communities existed at all, they were tortuous bush trails. Around the turn of the century one city alone, Winnipeg, had twenty-four different rail lines, and even a small place like Brandon had eight. Scenic appeal had little to do with the choosing of sites for hundreds of Canadian communities; they were picked because land beside the tracks was available.
The leapfrogging popularity of the automobile and the airliner after the Second World War seriously weakened the trains' hold on our national consciousness. In the post-war boom, there were more highways and more people could afford cars. Suddenly, Boeing and Douglas were producing bigger and speedier passenger planes. The railways made a few sputtering attempts to fight the competition but claimed they lacked the money to do a proper job. The trains became shabbier, staff morale sank, and customers turned in greater numbers to the more reliable sky routes. In 1978 the CNR and CPR merged their passenger divisions under a glitzy name, VIA Rail, and cut the transcontinental service to a single daily train. By 1983, passenger service throughout Canada was reduced by 20 percent.
The cutbacks sparked outbursts of public rage, particularly in the West and the Maritimes where the severest chops were made. When I started my research, I assumed anger over the reductions would be the main reaction I'd encounter. lb be sure, the fury did exist, but it wasn't nearly as widespread as I'd thought. The feeling most commonly expressed during the hundreds of interviews I conducted was one of immense regret - a sense that something valuable had been lost. Wherever I travelled in this country, asking people to describe their experiences on trains generally led to a surge of nostalgic comments. Even many of those who recalled unpleasant incidents spoke affectionately of the train and the meaning it had in their lives.
I had no trouble understanding their feelings. Soon after I began working on the book, the entire endeavour became something of a sentimental journey for me. I remembered sights and sounds long abandoned to the mists of time - the tapping Morse key; the Seth Thomas station clocks; the arrival-departure boards; the comforting rhythm of the rails; the conductors' zesty, 'All abooord!'; and, above all else, the boyhood pleasure of awakening in the dark and hearing, miles away, the sorrowful cry of the locomotive whistle.
Because of those memories, I was tempted to focus the book entirely on the years before 1960 when the CPR and CNR both removed steam locomotives from regular service. But that time limit would have been too confining. How could I do a decent oral history of Canadian railways without including, say, the Turbo fiasco or Pierre Elliott Trudeau's notorious Salmon Arm salute? So, while the book does lean heavily towards the era of the steamers, it also contains material from the 1960s to the present.


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