Congratulations to Kathryn Wellington and William Palmer, grand prize winners of our "What's Your Railway Legacy" contest!
They have won a two-day, two-night, all-expense paid trip for two aboard the CP Canada 150 Train, with five-star hospitality from the staff of the Royal Canadian Pacific.
Read their entries below:
The legacy I inherited from my family included pioneer stories and an old photograph album, with pictures that were already old long before I was born. The Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) not only knit together the far-flung parts of our country, to become Canada, it also knit together two families who came from far away and met in British Columbia: my railroad family.
The earliest picture in the album, taken in 1880, shows my great grandfather John Henry Wellington and his new bride Emmaline, on their wedding day. Our association with the railroad starts with him.
I personally like to think of my family's story as having been laid down between the lines of CPR's archives.
John Henry Wellington was born in Forest, Ontario in 1861 and joined the Grand Trunk Railway in 1877, first as a brakeman and then as a fireman. Later on in 1882, as the new CPR pushed its way towards the mountains, he went west with a construction crew as a locomotive engineer.
John Henry literally witnessed history being made from the cab of his locomotive. He first met Louis Riel in 1882 and second time in 1885, working as an engineer in Saskatchewan during the North West Rebellion, when Riel was finally captured. In 1905, as he was getting ready to retire from the CPR, he was elected to represent the city of Moose Jaw, in Saskatchewan's historic First Legislative Assembly.
Our old photograph album shows John Henry as a young man just starting out with the CPR and again as an older gentleman during his political career. However, my favourite picture shows him with Emmaline with their two boys – baby Charles and a stern little fellow named George Henry, who became my grandfather.
Like his father, George Henry joined the CPR becoming a telegrapher and a station agent, while living and working in many communities along the railroad line; places like Yale, Agazziz, Port Moody and Cranbrook, to name a few. He spent his entire career with the CPR.
Flipping through the album, the photographs also reveal the strange assortment of equipment that ran on the tracks during that time and the people who operated it; they show train wrecks with cars laying scattered like a child's toys down the banks of the Fraser River; but most importantly, they also capture the images of my family members who came to British Columbia from the south and who would eventually join the CPR.
Just like the ribbon of steel that had two starting points on either side of the country and met somewhere in the middle, so did my railroad family.
About the same time George Henry started his career with the CPR in British Columbia, my other great grandparents, John Hunt, his wife and two daughters came up north from Washington, having travelled across the northern United States by train around 1887.
John Hunt became the CPR agent in Haney, British Columbia and worked for the railroad until shortly before his death in 1917. Many of my favourite photographs depict the Hunts' lives against the backdrop of the Haney Station platform in the early part of the 20th century.
Both my great aunt and my grandmother's wedding photos were taken on the Haney platform. Mable Hunt, my grandmother, married George Henry Wellington and shortly after my mother Marjorie – a true railroad child, if ever there was one – was born in 1911. Her baby pictures show her toddling on the Haney platform at about two years old.
My mother was somewhat of a tomboy and her greatest desire was to become a telegrapher just like her father and grandfather before her. Family legends record her adventures growing up along the Fraser River, using a hand-operated cablecar to pull herself across the river, over the railroad tracks, so she could explore the neighboring caves. However, Marjorie did not get to have her railroading career, instead she became a nurse. She left the old CPR platform in Haney to become a midwife in Chicago in 1934. The train carried her on this adventure too.
Time, it seems, carries away much that is familiar and well-loved. CPR agents no longer raise their families in station homes and their babies no longer take their first faltering steps on platforms, or explore along rolling rivers, where old train tracks hug the banks. By the time I was ready for my adventures, I travelled not by train, but by a Canadian Pacific airplane.
Despite all these inevitable changes, some legacies are so ingrained in one's background that they hold special meaning and can never really be swept away. As if echoing this sentiment, on the day we scattered my mother's ashes in the Fraser River, on the way home, we were stopped at a level crossing by a passing CPR train: it blew its whistle like an old friend.
We all know John A. MacDonald, Father of Confederation, the first Prime Minister of Canada, who was the driving force behind building the CPR, to knit the young nation together. MacDonald, born in Scotland in 1815, immigrated with his family as a youth. We can find many stories about "Sir. John A." so we'll only mention him in passing in our story.
The second father who features in our story is Collingwood Schreiber, born in England in 1831, who immigrated in 1852, as a young engineer. Schreiber became the Engineer-in-Chief for the CPR project in 1880. The railroad town named for Schreiber on the north shore of Lake Superior is the setting for our story.
The third father, who is key to our story, is William D'Arcy. William, born in Wicklow County, Ireland in 1835, immigrated about the time of the Irish potato famine, with his mother, and siblings in 1848. William D'Arcy was my great-grandfather. Touring Ireland to see a mock-up of an immigrant ship typical of what carried the D'Arcy family to Canada at that difficult time was a chilling insight into their journey.
Although we know little of their early years in Canada, we pick up William's family story in Pays Platt, north of Lake Superior. The 1891 Canadian Census shows William D'Arcy, living there with his wife Mary and their four children, including Iva Wesley (age 8). William's occupation shows as Section Foreman. The building of the CPR had brought people north. We think that for William D'Arcy, the rugged "north of Superior" reminded him of Wicklow County in Ireland where he had grown up.
I bet William's son, young Iva, learned to pick blueberries on the hills around the community. Years later, I was taken to that same location by Iva's son, my Uncle Bill, to pick berries. Young Iva followed his father William back to Fordwich when William retired but before long, Iva married Clara Belle Smith and returned to the town of Schreiber, just east of Pays Platt, to begin his own career with the CPR.
Photo: D'Arcy Donald Wilson, Iva Wesley D'Arcy, William Edward D'Arcy, Schreiber, Ontario - About 1947
Iva became a CPR Brakeman, then a Freight Conductor, and finally, a Passenger Conductor. His son, William Edward D'Arcy (my Uncle Bill) joined Iva on the CPR, and then Iva's Grandson, D'Arcy Donald Wilson (my first cousin), the son of Iva's first daughter, Hilda also joined them, followed by two more grandsons of Iva, and then a great grandson. A proud moment in the D'Arcy family history is recorded in the photograph of Iva, his son Bill, and grandson D'Arcy, proudly standing in their CPR uniforms as train conductors and trainman. It is interesting to read Iva's retirement note. In over 40 operating years on the CPR he never missed a day, never had an accident, and was soundly respected by those he worked with.
Oh, and me, the storyteller? The CPR is in my blood as well. Every summer I travelled by train to Schreiber with my mother Evelyn, to sit in my Grandmother's front porch, or on the hillside, and watch the trains go by. I even managed to pass the love of trains on to my sons, as they too were introduced to railroading in the town of Schreiber.
Yes, the fathers who set down the CPR, today known as CP Rail, established more than just a railway. Along the way they built a nation, families, and the future.