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The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 12, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

The life of a station agent (part 2)

by Harold Craft

We moved to Alcove in 1917. A few years later, I bought two acres of land in a field that butted CPR property right opposite the station, and in 1924 I built a beautiful home and determined to live here no matter what. This wasn't always pleasant.

When the depression hit, I had to bid on a job in the Ottawa terminals, and I travelled back and forth by Harley-Davidson motorcycle while the roads permitted. It was the third shift at Hurdman. For five years, I moved around the terminals - Hull, Hull West, Ottawa West. I finished up at Hull Beemer in 1957 with 45 years service. I retired at age 60. It set a precedent. I was the first to take my pension at that age unless forced to by ill health.

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

The last 23 years have been the happiest of my entire life. I ski all winter and spend a part of each summer at my private trout lake some 10 miles west of Alcove. One of my favourite hobbies is taking movies. I have beautiful pictures of moose, deer, bear, beaver, geese and ducks, and I also have a great variety of wildflowers that make lovely pictures.

The source of revenue here at Alcove during my tenure from 1918 to 1933 was forest products - lumber, cordwood, and slabwood to Ottawa. Wood and coal were the main heating fuels used in the 20s and 30s.

Between 1918 and 1932 was sure the busiest period of our railroad history. In the winter, we had two passenger trains south and two north. In summer, we had the addition of the suburban run from Kazabazua. About 1926, the Company put in a wye here and from then on until its end in the early 40s, it operated from here.

As for freights, we had Nos. 79 and 80 every day except Sunday; they were the way freights and handled everything, including LCL (less than carload) shipments. In addition, we had extras as the traffic demanded, and this was often. The highlight of our passenger service was in the mid 20s, when the Blue Sea Special operated on Fridays. The stops were only Wakefield and Gracefield, if I remember correctly. There were also Sunday passenger extras north and south.

When I arrived at Alcove from Gracefield in April of 1917, there was a young fellow relief agent filling in between Bob Ritchie and myself by the name of J.U. Brazeau. This man moved up the ladder quite rapidly. He became a dispatcher, then chief dispatcher at Smiths Falls, then superintendent of the Laurentian Division, then manager of the Quebec Central, and wound up as vice-president of the CPR. He is still living and resides in Montreal. We were always good friends.

In May of '37, I was agent at Ottawa West, when Wakefield became vacant because Bill Thorne had bid in at Hudson. What a happy day it was for me when the chief, Harry Cavers, told me that I was the senior applicant.

In those days, both Gracefield and Alcove had outdoor plumbing, not even fresh water. They built a new station at Wakefield some short time before I came in. It had indoor plumbing. (They built a new one also at Gracefield in the 30s with indoor plumbing).

Wakefield was so nice and with me being not too busy, I decided to go all out to keep it nice. I waxed the floors and fastened ashtrays with white doilies on the waiting room bench arms. I think everyone but myself smoked in those days. Well, this was something. U.S. tourists who used to stop to send a telegram back home often remarked that it was the cleanest railway station that they had ever seen. Stations weren't noted for being too clean in those days.

This continued until the Aluminum Company began at Farm Point in 1941. From then on, I was too busy. Wakefield did the accounting. It was one of those jobs where there wasn't quite enough work for two men, but too much for one. I finally gave up trying to get a permanent assistant (the Company gave me help for a time, and then cancelled it) and when Buckingham Junction (Masson) came up for bid in '49, I applied and got the job. It was a busy spot, too, but there was a difference. The pay was twice what could be made at Wakefield, and I had two assistants. I remained there until about 1953, when I bid in on a swing - four days at Hull Beemer and one at Ottawa Union. The agent at Hull Beemer died suddenly of a heart attack about '55. I bid the agency, worked it for two years and retired. There was a nice dwelling there, and my wife and I lived there during the week and in our Alcove home on weekends. In the summer of 1965, I was asked by the chief dispatcher in Smiths Falls if I would care to relieve the agent at Gracefield (Alphonse Martineau) for his month of holidays. I was eight years retired at this time. I agreed, and after a span of 50 years, I found myself again the agent there for a month. I enjoyed it a lot.

Ed. note: Harold Craft was a Canadian Pacific Railway station agent in the Ottawa area for more than 40 years. Allan Richens, a Gatineau Valley Historical Society director, has kindly provided the Low Down with the above account of Mr. Craft's life and work, which appeared in the January 1981 edition of Branchline magazine. Part 1 appeared in the Dec. 5 edition of the Low Down.


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