Friday, January 13, 2017

Locking the Door at Lachute

Do you remember where you were 27 years ago today - January 15, 1990? I often use the phrases 'drastic cuts to VIA' or 'massive VIA cuts', referring to the 1981 and 1990 service reductions. And though this date marked the 1990 reductions, when my Dad and I were trackside to experience VIA's last Cavaliers, eight years earlier there had been another rounds of...drastic cuts. Thoughts of such cuts may conjure up sweeping, nation-wide processes - coloured, dashed lines on a map. But what about the cuts are at the grassroots level? The passenger level. The community or town level. Train-offs and last runs sound vaguely sentimental, but what does the end of this process look like? What does it feel like? How do people actually react?

The drastic cuts to VIA made in November 1981 resulted in the termination of well-known named trains like the Super Continental and the Atlantic Limited. But these cuts also affected lesser-known services, leaving VIA with 2,800 miles of their system with no service or reduced service - roughly 20% of its network. One of these services was the Ottawa-Montreal RDC run on CP Rail trackage including CP's Lachute Subdivision, sometimes referred to as the 'North Shore Budd' since its route traced the north shore of the Ottawa River.
Cousins of mine, whose Rodger family heritage farm is near Lachute, QC made a point of being at the Lachute station for the last run of VIA No 170 on November 14, 1981. My late aunt Bea at left in long coat, with her grandsons Michael and Andrew (above) were part of the small crowd on hand along with my cousins Bob and May. Their photographs and details of that day give us the community view we seldom see. On a day that was sunny but not without its dark side, they purposely made their way to the Lachute station to document the last Ottawa-Montreal train No 170: a single ex-CP RDC. Departing Ottawa at a schedule 0730, the Dayliner covered the 132 miles scheduled to arrive at Montreal’s Windsor Station at 1045. 
Approaching in the distance for its scheduled 0920 stop, the train makes its way into Lachute (arrow - above photo) crosses the bridge over the North River/Riviere du Nord and stops for the last time at its stately, 1929-built station. 
Conductor Jean-Jacques Sirois, engineer Ab Sabourin and station agent Henri Larche pose at the open vestibule door for a commemorative photo. My youngest cousins have their photo taken with Mr Larche, the station agent. Mr Larche locks the door “for the last time” (top photo).
To further my family connection to this station, my brother scanned a photo of family members at Lachute station taken by my Dad, at the beginning of a trip to Vancouver on CPR in 1947. In the photo album, my Dad noted that until the 1960s FOUR passenger trains a day travelled between Montreal and Ottawa - two trains in each direction with coaches for week-end and holiday traffic. Back left is my grandfather, front left is my aunt:
The last run from Montreal to Ottawa that evening, VIA No 171 was documented by Colin Churcher, appearing in TRAINS magazine's November, 1985 issue, marking the magazine's 45th anniversary and dedicated to Canadian railroading. The article is illustrated with photos taken by J. David Ingles including one of RDC-1 6123 at the Lachute station taken in October, 1980. Colin noted the futility and hopelessness of employees whose futures were changed by these cuts. The long-time, now-retiring Lachute station agent who asked to buy the station clock from CP but declined when told the price would be $1400! The CP engineman, Ab Sabourin, with nearly four decades of service, who made his way to his waiting auto in Ottawa soon after arrival.
According to the article, after departing Lachute, 6128 hit a truck at a fog-bound crossing on its morning run into Montreal after my cousins photographed it. The train back to Ottawa was protected by RDC-1 6102. Notice the reflection of the station sign board still bearing the lettering Canadian Pacific Railway in the left-hand window (above). Interestingly, 6128 had been converted from CP 9051 at CN's Pointe St Charles shops in November, 1979. After the last runs, she would go to Sudbury-White River service, operating with VIA 9251, then Corridor service in Ontario through the 1980's. Operating between Brownville Junction and Packard Brook, ME, whe was the sole unit on a CP special commemmorating the 100th anniversary of its line through Maine on December 9, 1988. Also notable for operating on VIA No 670 ex London on January 15, 1990 with VIA 6202, then sold to BC Rail that summer. 
The RDC's more than did their duty on those last runs. Photos were taken. Then the link for rail passengers on that single track line between Lachute and two of Canada's major cities was severed. This is what the end looks like.

Here's a postscript to this story. What are the chances that I have more photos to share? Pretty good, actually! Thanks to another photographer, Ian Walker, who happened to be there at the very same time that fateful morning, as well as that evening for the last upbound run.

Running extra...

This story is going to make it into my fourth book on VIA Rail Canada, due to arrive this spring. Entitled Trackside with VIA - Research and Recollections, it will include not only new data, newly-discovered consists and previously-unpublished photos, but also trip reports and accounts of travels aboard VIA, its equipment, and its operations from VIA's early years right up to 2017.

January 2017 - the peaceful transition of power is at hand. No matter who was chosen to hold the office of President, the official motto of the United States of America remains In God We Trust. Unsure about what the next four years may hold, let the United States Army Field Band inspire you (3:52 mark!), reminding us that His truth is indeed marching on. Under the baton of First Lieutenant Alexandra Borza.


Robert Archer said...

Christmas Eve of 1960; I rode the CP Budd "Dayliner" from Ottawa to Lachute to visit my grandmothers for Christmas. It was an evening train, there must have been at least 2 per day then.

Eric said...

Gotta run downstairs and check the archives. Indeed the service that was cut during the VIA era was much reduced from the heyday of passenger travel, when this must have been a convenient link between Ottawa and Montreal!
Thanks very much for your comment, Robert.

Tom Box said...

The October 1960 timetable shows two daily Montreal-Ottawa round trips on the Lachute Sub; one train each way in the morning and one in the evening. There was also an afternoon train in each direction on Saturday only. Add to that four round trips a day on the M&O Sub (including The Canadian and The Dominion), and another four on the Alexandria Sub (including the Super Continental and the Continental), and the Montreal-Ottawa passenger had a lot of choices.

November 1981 brought an end to VIA service on the M&O Sub, as well as the Lachute Sub. Unfortunately, I only ever rode those routes from Windsor Station to Rigaud and Ste-Thérèse, not west of those points.

Eric said...

My Dad noted the following in the album with my cousins' photos:

Until the 1960s four (underlined) passenger trains a day travelled between Montreal and Ottawa - two trains in each direction with coaches for week-end and holiday traffic.


Anonymous said...

Great story, Eric. I was on the last westbound run with a number of members of the Bytown Railway Society. We had gone from Ottawa to Montreal on Train No. 2 "The Canadian" for its last scheduled run over the M&O Subdivision and, notwithstanding that we were coach passengers, they let us into the "Park" car for part of the trip. We spent the day in Montreal with a tour of CP's motive power room in Windsor Station and then rode the CN electrics to Deux Montagnes. For the evening, we rode back on the North Shore. As you will see in the Churcher story, the headlight failed to work on the Budd at Windsor Station so the decision was made to turn the train on the balloon track at the Glen Yard. Great excitement over that and my only regret was the movement was made in the dark! Anyway, thanks for the memories. Philip Jago

Eric said...

Thanks for the additional information, Tom.
Great memories indeed, Phil, and a great story in the Branchline.
And, all of this 35 years ago!

Mark Walton said...

The Pepin cuts if 1981 came right after 3 back-to-back-to-back bus strikes: Greyhound (BC to Toronto, just over 1 week); Voyageur Colonial (Eastern Ontario - Montreal, 6 weeks); and Voyageur Inc. (most of Quebec, 2-3 months). During that time, VIA picked up most of the stranded bus passengers admirably.

For much of that summer I carried the Transport 2000 (now Transport Action) flag on the Montreal-Lachute-Ottawa line, which paralleled a strikebound Voyageur Inc. route. From the time the cuts were announced, I often rode that train carrying flyers and petitions. Usually I got good cooperation from the passengers and conductors on that line; only once was I stopped because a CP management "spy" was aboard. I met a lot of interesting people including: on one trip, 2 US NARP members who didn't even know each other; on another, an old woman from Lachute who was typical of the seniors dependent on that train even at the best of times to get into Montreal for medical appointments, and the daughter of a future Ottawa City Councillor.

For the last trip November 15, I rode by bus from Ottawa (I then lived in the east end) to Cumberland, then crossed the Ottawa River by ferry to Masson and waled to Buckingham Junction, where I boarded the train. I had often done that for an evening's "expotition" in earlier years, when I was new to Ottawa, so T2K picked me for that duty. For a fuller account than I can give, see Colin Churcher's article first published in "Trains" November 1985, at . The conductor let me ride free that trip, and a French newspaper reporter was aboard, I spoke to her briefly. At Ottawa Station I met up with several Bytown Railway Society members who had done the full trip mentioned in the article.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Mark. You were intimately involved with the process at that pivotal time, and it's great to have your perspective.

VIA definitely benefited from airline and bus strikes in its early years. Those trains more than filled the platform at Kingston!


Anonymous said...

The photo of the Engineer, conductor and station agent reminds me of when they closed our grain elevator. I went around taking pictures around the inside and I took a picture of the last elevator agent in his office. I always enjoyed visiting the elevator. The elevator still stands but is owned privately now.

Eric said...

You documented history with those elevator photos, A.

When such unique buildings are given over to another use, they're still the same building but perhaps their heart and soul have gone away.

We should photograph everything we think is mundane, because someday it will not be!
Thanks very much for your comment,

Unknown said...

Note that the conductor of the North Shore Budd in the 1970s would go through the train while approaching Lachute and take orders for coffee et c. At Lachute, the agent would serve up the orders to the conductor who would disribute them to passengers. This was much appreciated by passengers, but VIA mnanagement was horrified and ordered that the practice come to an end. In that era I lived in Chelsea and found the Lachute train very handy to take from Hull to get to Montréal, where I would bail out at Park Avenue Station, then take the bus to my destination near downtown. I can confirm that a number of people depended on the train to get to medical appointments in Montréal. The cost-cutters at Transport Canada didn't care, but ca. 2000 Health Canada paid for a research action project to organise rural public transit in the region - it still exists and carries people to town for their medical appointments et c., with money from Transports Québec, municipalities and the fareox.

Eric said...

So typical of the transition to folksy service to corporate entrenchment! It reminds me of the refreshment stop at Red Deer on the Calgary-Edmonton Dayliner run.

Sounds like this service really served the needs of people until the plug was pulled...pfffft!

Thanks very much for your comment,

james ginn said...

My aunt used to grab the train at Montreal West station up to Lachute and then a taxi to Lake Sir John. Sure couldn't travel so cheaply these days.

Eric said...

So many memories made on these little trains all across our country!

Thanks for sharing your memories, James!

Harry Gow said...

I had worked out a system to take the N. Shore Budd to a little station near Mirabel Airport(St-Augustin?) and found a taxi that would take me to Mirabel Airport for a small fee.
This worked so well that British Airways used it for air crew as well as travel agencies who
referred clients from Montréal and the West Island. All this came to a stop with the Pépin cuts, alas. Harry Gow

Eric said...

That's a neat story, Harry. Generations of travellers used these unique route to get to/from Montreal! Mirabel was...away from it all!

Anonymous said...

In the 1970's my brothers and sisters you to take the train home to Lachute on the weekend when going to Loyola College. On Sunday night going back to Montreal, most of the seats were taken when the train arrived in Lachute, so often they had to stand going back. Because they'd take back a lot of groceries, to ensure they had a seat, my mom and I would drive them just west of Lachute to a small stop in Staynerville. We would park the car beside the station facing west. When we'd see the lights of the train, my mom would flash the car lights, to signal to the train to stop for a pickup. My brothers and sisters would get on the train there, get a great saet, and have a nice comfortable ride back into Montreal with all their groceries.

I myself took the train for the last time when I came home from University at Carleton in Ottawa, around Sept -Oct 1980. I remember having to get up quite early at residence at Carleton, catch a few buses to the Ottawa train station, only to get on the train and drive right past residence at Carleton (I could see the window to my room) some 2 hours later !. Even with that, it was still great because when I arrived in Lachute, I was only about a 5 minute walk home from the train station. Sad to see we are supposed to be progressing going into the future, and we lost so much with the disappearance of the train. I toured Italy about 10 years ago and was able to do all my travelling there so nicely through the country on the train. Hopefully we can get some of that back some day.

Gary Lowe

Eric said...

Great to hear from you, Gary. You must be related to Kevin, whom my great-aunt Bea (Hugman) Rodger told me she used to babysit!

Yes, those are some interesting stories and ones we won't have the chance to recreate any longer. My cousins still live in the Lachute area, and pictures I've seen show the Lachute station completely fenced off from the platform and track.

At least we have our memories, just too bad they can't be made any longer.

Thanks very much for your comment,