The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 05, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

The life of a station agent (part 1)

by Harold Craft

From 1912 to 1915, I was a telegrapher and served mainly in the Ottawa terminals. I went to Gracefield in June of 1915 as a very young man to my first work as an Agent.

A station Agent in those days was a very important person.

He ranked right next to the Doctor and Mayor because everything that we ate or wore that wasn't produced locally came in via rail.

Gracefield was a busy station. The W.C. Edwards Co. was operating in the Eagle district and the merchants from distant places such as Notre Dame-du-Laus, Cayamount, etc. received as much as possible of their summer supplies during the winter months while there was sleighing.

The Way We Were
The Gracefield Train Station circa 1915. Photo courtesy virtualmuseum.ca.

They could haul much more on snow than on bare ground.

Chief source of revenue for the railway, in addition to what the merchants needed, was incoming supplies for Edwards and outgoing shipments of lumber, pulpwood and livestock.

I transferred to Alcove in 1918 and served here until 1932 when the depression was on.

We were only three miles from Wakefield, so this was one of the first stations to go.

Until the depression of the 1930s, Alcove produced quite a lot of revenue for the company via carloads of lumber, cordwood, peeled poplar pulpwood for Ticonderoga and Mechanicville, New York, and cattle, etc.

There were cattle pens at all of the larger stations, and most of the flag stations. The company gave them a new coat of whitewash every summer. There couldn't have been much profit in handling liverstock. The rates to East End Cattle Market, Montreal, and to Union Stock Yards (West Toronto) were ridiculously low, and there were stopoffs allowed at $2 and $3 each that would delay the way-freight crews sometimes an hour. An attendant usually accompanied the load and travelled free in the caboose. He would be given a half-fare ticket for his return on presentation of a bill of lading. Andy Pritchard of Kazabazua was the main buyer of livestock for many years.

It was a common sight in those days to see our station yards filled to complete capacity with peeled poplar pulpwood.

Nearly every farmer would cut some during the peeling season and haul it to the station yards during the winter.

Piling grounds, when available, would cost $1 for a permit good for six months. The lumber companies usually took out a permanent lease on some space that would cost $10 for a year. F.W. Perras was the big pulpwood buyer. He resided at Gracefield and operated from Hull to Maniwaki.

In 1917, I married a wonderful bilingual schoolteacher, one of a family of nine brought up on a farm three miles north of Gracefield. We were together for 55 years until she died in 1973.

We had two children, a boy and a girl.

I am a product of Pennsylvania. I worked one year as a telegrapher for the New York Central that served the community where we lived in Centre County. I made a mistake in re-copying a train order that was awfully long. I mistook the words east end for west end of a passing siding, and it could have caused a collision, but didn't. They had a boss that fired men for the smallest reason. He fired my brother some months earlier, and he went west and worked for the Rock Island and later the Wabash.

Getting fired was terrible at the time, but as the years passed and I got acquainted with Canada, I was overjoyed, especially when I went to Gracefield and learned that there were no poisonous snakes in this country. I come from a family that loved the outdoors - hunting, fishing, picking berries, etc., anything to get out. One had to be always on guard for rattlesnakes.

In those days, if one got bitten, it was sure death. I remember a couple of cases of children dying from the bite. Children were more vulnerable than adults.

I became more and more acquainted with this wonderful Gatineau Valley, and I have never ceased to praise it. If you are the outdoor type, it is my belief that there is no finer place in all the world to spend your life. You mention it and the Gatineau has it: hunting, fishing, skiing, etc., etc. If you don't go for the outdoor attractions, it shouldn't matter at all where you spend your life.

Ed. note: Harold Craft was a station agent for Canadian Pacific in the Ottawa area for over 40 years. Allan Richens, a Gatineau Valley Historical Society director, has kindly provided the Low Down the above account of Mr. Craft's life and work, which appeared in the January 1981 edition of Branchline magazine. Part 2 will appear in the Dec. 5 edition of the paper.

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