HAVING now severed my
connection with the O. and Q., I made preparations to leave Toronto as
soon as possible, to take up my new position on the C.P.R. I felt,
however, that I could not very well leave without saying good-bye to my
uncle, aunt, and cousins, at Hornby. So I went there and paid them a
farewell week-end visit.
I had planned to return on
Monday by the morning train, and was at the station in good time. There
was another passenger waiting for the train there too, and we naturally
got into conversation. I did not at first know who he was, but later
developments made it evident that he held some position on the railway
roadmaster, most likely.
Hornby, as I have already
stated, was a flag station. But on this occasion the flag system failed to
work; for although we had flagged the train in the usual way, it roared
past the station without stopping. I was flabbergasted.
However, my fellow-traveller
was fully awake and knew what to do. He told me to wait where I was while
he hunted up a hand-car, and set off at once to a gang of section-men who
were at work close by. A short time after, he returned on a hand-car with
some of the section-men, and invited me to get on board with him, for a
hand-car ride to Toronto. I was only too glad at this opportunity of
getting there without more delay, so I accepted his invitation with
pleasure. Although there were plenty of hands for pumping the hand-car, I
took my turn on the job. It was my first experience in this class of work;
but I didn't find it too hard.
We made the journey to
Toronto in good time, and I was able to get ready to leave for the West
that same day, by the night train. I packed my trunk with such things as I
didn't want to take with me, and arranged with the Erskines to keep it for
me, until I should return. I took with me just my field and drawing
instruments, and a dunnage-bag well stuffed with a miscellaneous
collection consisting for the most part of old clothes, engineering
textbooks, and a rifle.
On the journey to Winnipeg
there was much of interest to be seen on the way: the ferrying of the
train across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit; the
stern-wheel steamers on the Mississippi; and the seemingly endless expanse
of plain between Minneapolis and the boundary.
I got to Chicago late in
the evening, and was immediately transferred by bus (horse-drawn, of
course; no motor vehicles in those days) to a station in the other end of
the city; and there I got on the night train for St. Paul. So I saw little
of Chicago; all I can say about it is that I was driven through it in the
I spent a night in St. Paul
and left the following morning on the last lap of my journey, and arrived
in Winnipeg early in the evening.
At this point I am faced
with what would appear to be an anomalous freak of memory. For I have no
recollection of the name of the hotel I went to; where it was situated;
nor whether I walked to it, or was driven to it from the station. And yet,
I distinctly remember my registering at a hotel. My memory of this may be
due to the fact that just as I was registering, a man came in and handed
to the clerk at the desk a sheet of paper which evidently was an open
telegram and said, in quite a joyous tone: "The track has crossed the
Saskatchewan!" That information was naturally of great interest to me; and
hearing it just as I was registering has left this dual event, the
crossing of the Saskatchewan by the C.P.R. track, and my arrival in
Winnipeg on the same day, firmly imprinted on my memory.
The next morning as
instructed by Holt I called at the engineers' office for a pass to the
End of Track. W. D. Barclay was the engineer in charge, and it was there
that I met him for the first time.
Having got my pass I took a
walk around to look at the town. The boom had by that time burst, and the
outlook was, to say the least, depressing. Moreover, recent rains had made
the streets almost impassable. Wagons and other vehicles slowly made their
way through mud, almost up to their axles. Mud seemed to be everywhere; it
was even on the board sidewalks; a sticky greasy mud which made walking
anything but a pleasure. So it is by no means an inviting picture that I
retain in my mind, of Winnipeg as it was, when I first saw it.
Early next morning I left
for the End of Track. There was a sleeping-car with the train as far as
Moose Jaw, which I reached the following morning. So the journey up to
that point, although slow in comparison with present-day speeds, was
pleasant. But from Moose Jaw, west, only freight trains ran. So from there
I continued my way perched on the top of a car-load of telegraph poles. I
quite enjoyed the novelty of this ride for a time; but it was an all-day
journey, and I arrived at Medicine Hat in the small hours of the morning,
feeling pretty stiff.
As I got off the train in
the dark, I was in somewhat of a quandary as to where I was going to put
up for the rest of the night. But a man with a lantern approached, and in
response to my inquiry, kindly piloted me to a large marquee tent which
bore the pretentious name ROYAL HOTEL. Here I was given a cot. I had a
real good sleep, and got up for breakfast quite refreshed. The man with
the lantern, who thus befriended me, was the night watchman for the C.P.R.
His name was Thomas Burns, afterwards well known in Calgary for many
years, as Assessor and City Treasurer.
I had now to give some
thought to the problem of getting to the End of Track, which by that time
was some twelve miles past Medicine Hat. There was no scheduled time for
trains leaving for there, so I had to hang around the station for a while,
keeping an eye on a train that was being made up of flat-cars loaded with
ties and rails and other track material. When this train was finally made
up, I got on board one of the cars; and in due time reached the End of
Track, and reported to Holt in his private car.
He gave me a cordial
welcome, and after a short conversation of a general nature, he outlined
the work I was to do. I was to form one of a staff of three in an
engineers' office which he was establishing at Medicine Hat. W. A. Doane,
who had been assistant engineer on the O. and Q. at Peterborough, was
expected to arrive shortly, and would be in charge of that office. In
order of precedence, I would come next; and T. K. Thomson, a student at
Toronto School of Applied Science, then spending his summer vacation as a
draughtsman on a car at the End of Track, would be the junior.
During this interview with
Holt, I happened to notice on a table close to where I was sitting, some
sheets of paper which had for letter-head, "North American Construction
My curiosity led me to ask
him what company that was. He seemed rather amused as he replied: "That is
the company you are working for." That was surprising news to me, for I
had been under the belief that I would be working for the C.P.R. But he
further informed me that the North American Construction Company was a
subsidiary of the C.P.R., organized to take charge of the location and
construction of the Western section of the Railway.
In the public mind,
however, that company and the C.P.R. were just one and the same thing. One
rarely ever heard it mentioned; nearly everyone spoke of it as the C.P.R.
When I had finished my talk
with Holt, he asked me to stay the night with him. So I was free for the
afternoon to stroll about and watch the track-layers at work. This was the
first time I had seen track-laying, and I was much interested in the
Some writers, when
referring to the construction of the C.P.R., have stated that a
track-laying machine was used. But not in my experience. The track was
laid entirely by manual labour. I can still picture the busy scene, and
can hear the clang of the rails as they were dropped on the ties.
End of Track was something
more than just the point to which track had been laid. It was a real live
community, a hive of industry, in which teamsters, tracklayers,
blacksmiths, carpenters, executive officers, and other trades and
professions all had a part. They had their quarters on a train composed of
cars loaded with rails and other track material, followed by large
boarding-cars for the workmen, and by sundry smaller cars for the
executives. This train was pushed ahead as track-laying proceeded; and at
the end of a day's work, it might be three or four miles from where it was
on the morning.
I returned to Medicine Hat,
along with Thomson, the following morning; and a day or two later, Doane
arrived. Of what Thomson and I. did in the interim, I have no distinct
recollection; but on Doane's arrival we had a tent set up for an office,
and soon got started to work.
Medicine Hat, at that time
simply a canvas town, was being established as a divisional point, and our
work consisted, in part, in laying out, and looking after the grading of
sidings for yard tracks; and the building of a round-house.
Of the people I first came
to know, I may mention Neil Curran, the chief accountant, and his staff.
There was a small office boy on the staff, about twelve or fourteen years
of age, who answered to the name of George. He was messenger and general
chore boy. What his surname was I didn't know till long afterwards. He was
just George. He didn't need a surname, for everyone round about knew who
George was. But many years later he was more widely known as George
Webster, Mayor of Calgary.
We bunked in a car-shaped
building and had our meals in a similar one with Curran and his staff.
Besides the staff, there was a former member of it who made one of our
party too. He had been in charge of supplies for engineers' camps, but had
given up that position, and having studied law, had opened an office in
Medicine Hat. But force of habit, or maybe some other reason, made him
still patronize the company's boarding-house. His name was James Lougheed,
for a long time afterwards a prominent lawyer in Calgary, and a Senator;
and later known as Sir James Lougheed.
About a week after my
arrival in Medicine Hat, we had a spell of extremely hot weather. I
evidently considered this so unusual that I made a note of the
temperatures on the fly-leaf of an engineer's pocket-book which I still
possess. From 26th June to 2nd July, the temperatures as there recorded
were 96°, 99°, 100°, 107°, 96°, 76°, 58°. As these temperatures were taken
with an ordinary thermometer which may not have been exactly in the shade,
I cannot guarantee their absolute correctness. But they serve to give a
fair comparison between the daily temperatures during that period. The
drop from the high temperature of 107° to the low of 58° on the 2nd of
July resulted in a storm which struck like a flash, and blew down almost
every tent in town. And it was a blinding storm, for the air was thick
with the dry sandy material with which the yard sidings were being graded.
There was little left of these, and the work had to be done all over
again. Our office tent shared the same fate as the rest; tracings of plans
on which we were working were ripped from the table to which they were
pinned, and nothing was afterwards seen of them.
When the storm had blown
itself out, tents were again set up and business resumed its former
activities. We, however, were spared setting up our draughting tent; it
was so badly wrecked that we were given a box-car for an office instead.
Among the various points of
interest around the Hat as the town was beginning to be called, for
short the Saskatchewan held quite an attraction for me. The very name had
a smack of romance, reminiscent of tales of Indians in the Far West,
which, in my schooldays, had stirred in me a spirit of adventure. But it
didn't appeal in this way to everyone. I have been told of a more prosaic
individual who held that the name sounded like a sneeze; and that the only
way in which it could be pronounced was to substitute a sneeze for the two
middle syllables. He no doubt considered himself quite a joker.
Be that as it may, I
ventured a swim in it down stream, for the current was too strong to
swim up stream. This swim was, in itself, quite enjoyable. But I paid full
toll for it in blood, to the swarms of mosquitoes through which I had to
pass on shore, as, bare-footed, I gingerly picked my steps on the rough
shingle, on my way back to the spot where I had left my clothes. There was
not much romance in that adventure; and one was quite enough for me.
Shortly before I left
Medicine Hat, W. B. Scarth, Manager of the Canada North West Land Company
arrived from Winnipeg to put the lots of the town-site on the market. The
town-site had been laid out some time before, and many of the lots had
already been selected by prospective purchasers who were occupying them as
their business premises. There seemed to have been a sort of gentlemen's
agreement among the businessmen, to regard such occupation as a
pre-emptive claim which they would respect when the lots came to be sold.
When Scarth announced the
prices of the lots there was an indignant protest from the prospective
purchasers; for these prices were much higher than anyone ever thought
they would be. So, following the custom of the day, an "indignation
meeting" was called to air their grievance. "Indignation meeting," I may
here say, was the name then used and for a long time afterwards for
any meeting called to protest against an action done, or proposed to be
done, of which the protesters disapproved. I have attended a number of
"indignation meetings"; the name was the drawing card; it clearly spelled
At this "indignation
meeting", Lougheed took a prominent part. He was one of the prospective
purchasers, and by way of registering his claim to a lot, had placed some
building material on it. I attended the meeting held in the open air
and I can still hear him declaiming against the iniquity of the Canada
North West Land Company in exacting such extortionate prices. What these
prices were, I don't remember; but as a result of this meeting, the sale
of lots was postponed indefinitely.
A few days later, the whole
staff in both the accounting and engineering departments, got orders from
Holt to move to the End of Track which by that time was nearing Calgary.
But this move did not
entail any packing up. For the living- and office-quarters, the
dining-room and kitchen with all they contained were simply loaded on
flat-cars; and we thus made the trek undisturbed.
We had planned to do some
office work on the way, but as the track had not as yet been ballasted
the train rolled and pitched like a ship in a choppy sea, so that it was
impossible to do any draughting; and we had just to pass the time as best
we could. At times, following a clatter which sounded like broken dishes,
as the car gave an extra roll, we could hear a burst of strong language
coming from the cook. Thus we were not without entertainment on the way.
We reached the End of Track
in the evening, and there we settled down for a time. But after I had been
there a day or perhaps two Holt sent me to Calgary to help out,
temporarily, in the office of Moses Burpee who was Chief Engineer, on
construction. The track was then some twenty miles from Calgary, and I was
driven there in one of the company's wagons. To get to Calgary, we had to
cross the Bow River; and the only means of crossing it was by a ferry run
by the North West Mounted Police. The ferryman, when I crossed, was a tall
slim, and active young man Corporal Ralph Bell. He was the first Calgary
man I met; and, like myself, was destined to play his part in the
development of the West.
The teamster who drove the
wagon landed me safely at Burpee's camp. But what I did there must form
part of the next chapter, dealing with my work in Calgary.