Saturday, January 12, 2008


Dear sister

I heard that your a bit of a Stephen Leacock fan. If this is true, this note may be of some interest to you.

In 1965 I worked for the Globe and Mail in Toronto . One of my jobs as editorial department factotum was to trot down Front Street to Union Station (just a few blocks south of the Globe) every evening to pick up packages of photographs and film sent in by correspondents in different parts of Southern Ontario. This was before the days of instantaneous electronic transmission of images. Things were a lot more 'manual' then.

I enjoyed the task because it gave me an excuse to get away from the hustle of the office and gave me the opportunity to visit the grand building that was the largest rail station in Canada . It was actually a piece of art with its high cathedral ceilings and marble walls and floors. Along the walls were carved the names of all the big cities that the CPR and CNR serviced.

I would go there early so that I’d have an excuse to sit on one of the marble benches and watch all the activity. On both sides of the “Great Hall” were doorways leading to the different platforms. Over the doors were signs that had the number of the train that it lead to. One doorway was different. It’s sign announced in big letters, ‘Northlander’. I use to think that this train was far too special to be identified by a mere numeral.

Now at the time I was a big fan of Stephen Leacock and carried in my pocket a small copy of ‘Sunshine Sketches”. I picked it up at a used book store on Adelaide Street . I believe I paid fifteen cents for it.

The story that I enjoyed the most was the story of the Train to Mariposa.

I must say that the story – about people always promising themselves that one day they would return to their hometown – and never quite making it, made me homesick.

I knew that the Ontario Northlander traveled the 600 miles from Toronto to Hearst. I also knew the 300 or so miles up the track it would stop for a few minutes in Cobalt to unload passengers and freight. I use to watch the people going through that portal and try to guess which ones were getting off at the little Cobalt Station, and if they would be looking out their window when the big silver train streaked through Gillies Depot.

I would read Leacock’s tale over and over again as I sat on that marble bench.

Now, at the time Leacock had gone out of fashion. Particularly after that pompous fart Robertson Davies announced to any one who cared to listen to him that Leacock’s writing was “childish”. I believe that it was this type of attitude that has kept Leacock from being accepted as Canada ’s Mark Twain.

I could picture myself years earlier walking past the station with my friend Freddie on our way to the Saturday afternoon show. Mom would only let me go to the show if Freddie was also going. He was my guardian, as far as Mother was concerned. Unfortunately poor Freddie was a bit scrambled after he had been struck by a train near the station when he was much younger. I would often have to make sure that my ‘guardian’ didn’t forget his coat and hat when we were leaving the theatre.

Years later I would wonder if was the Northlander that struck down our step-grandfather 'Roddie' when he took that fatal walk along the tracks in one of his alcoholic hazes after a night out with the boys. Is my life haunted by trains?

I would recall those days when we lived in Gillies Depot and Dad would drive Mother and I into Cobalt. Mother was working at the Haileyburian Newspaper at the time and she would catch a taxi from Cobalt to the newspaper office. I would stay at the taxi stall until it was time for me to hightail it to the Coleman Township Public School . On the way I would stop for as long as I dare to watch the workmen pulling those heavy noisy freight wagons along the station platform.

I also remember the times that Dad and I passed the old station when I went along with him to deliver slab firewood to some of the homes in Cobalt.

In the mid 1970’s when I worked on a construction project at the Silver Miller Mine in Cobalt, Ontario, I would sometimes be able to look across the small lake and see the Northlander offloading passengers. And then –in a strange reverse – I would catch myself daydreaming of those evenings when I sat on one of the benches in that long marble lobby in downtown Toronto , reading about the Mariposa train. The track did indeed go both ways.

Anyways, Linda, for what it was worth, just a few thought that I wanted to share with you on this cold Blind River afternoon.

Your brother