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.

Running extra...

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

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.

10 comments:

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.
Eric

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.

Eric

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!
Eric

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!

Eric

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,
Eric