Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Go West! My Travels in Western Canada

If my aunt and uncle hadn't settled in Portage to set up a dental practice there, I might only have passed through. I'm not even sure how much our family knew about the plethoric railfanning potential of Portage prior to our first visit there in 1976. (You'll find plethoric Portage post links in this post.) Being beside those busy tracks for the first time must have been what a colony of ants feels like when it discovers a park full of picnickers! My aunt and uncle 'down at the station' at Portage on CN's Rivers Subivision, 1981 (top photo).

Not only did the west-of-Winnipeg transcontinental mainlines of both CN and CP make Portage their first sizeable stop on their long march to the West Coast, but their tracks crossed there. Emanating from Portage were more lines! The CN Rivers and CP Carberry Subdivisions entered from the east, with CN's Gladstone and CP's Minnedosa Subdivisions heading northwest, and CN's Oakland Subdivision heading straight north. To me, the west end of Portage was really where the West began!

There was a steady, sometimes pulse-pounding panoply of train movements. Passenger, freight, switching, hotshots carrying cattle, containers and new cars, work trains, unit trains of grain, potash and coal, and even an interchange between the two railways' yards.

On CN and CP, and later when VIA Rail came into being in 1976 and consolidated operations at CN's Fisher Avenue East station in 1978, passengers boarded there for Vancouver, Churchill, Montreal and Toronto. Northern locals and intercity flagships stopped to embark and disembark passengers and to take on and disgorge baggage and express. Both stations were staffed, with operators hooping up orders for head-end and tail-end crews of most trains. 

CP stationed a switcher to serve its Portage-area industries, while CN didn't seem to have enough local business to justify one. CP's smoky S-3 6569 switched the large Campbell's Soup plant on the northwest fringes, North American Can of Canada Ltd., N.M. McAllister Pea and Seed, Engro and Elephant fertilizer dealers, a team track and three of Portage's four elevators. Two were operated by Manitoba Pool Elevators (MPE) and two by United Grain Growers (UGG). In what is the only such known example in Canada, CN switched the rear of the MPE Pool B while CP switched the front! Upon completing our tour of the 1959-built Campbell Soup plant, VIA's Super Continental could be seen across the grainfields, heading west! My uncle and I on the VIA platform with MPE Pool B elevator and the hot afternnon sun at our backs in 1982:
There was also the Skyline Bridge, lifting Tupper Street North up and over all the trackage, as well as level crossings, crossovers, and station platforms from which to take in the passing trains. At times it was possible to see up to four trains simultaneously! 

Most, but not all, trips were by rail, though for our first we drove west in the family VW Beetle in 1976, then aboard VIA Rail in 1978, high-speed in my brother's VW Rabbit GTI in 1979. In the eighties, I arrived aboard VIA Rail in 1980, passing through again October of that year, then aboard VIA Rail in 1981, and 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1986.
The three of us made some roadtrips together. In 1981, to a dental convention in Calgary. This enabled me to take the thrilling Calgary-South Edmonton Dayliner and ride behind steam at Heritage Park. Taking in the lofty local scenery, my aunt and uncle pose with their trusty Datsun at Banff's Bow River waterfalls parking lot (above). My doting aunt gives me some good last-minute advice while we await VIA No 2 in the 'basement' VIA station in the 1967 Palliser Square/Calgary Tower VIA development that was used until 1990: 
In 1982, we drove out to the farm show in Regina. (What were those BN predecessor boxcars doing south of the highway we had no time to investigate? Years later I would find out they were 'destroyers' brought to Regina for scrapping.) Quite a few times, we headed north to Gladstone to visit my uncle's parents. Here, my uncle and I peruse an item of interest in his parents' house, with his mother Anna seated at the kitchen table:
The "visiting fireman" tour of Winnipeg led us through the backstreets of St Boniface, skirting Symington Yard and past the depot trackage downtown. In 1984, to Gimli and west to Brandon, where we happened to catch the end of VIA's Winnipeg-Saskatoon 'prairie schooner'. My aunt and uncle treated me to some nice dinners, here we are at the buffet of the Countess of Dufferin restaurant in Winnipeg with an old railroader:

But I was just as happy to be back in Portage where the action was non-stop .My aunt and uncle would drop me off at the station on their way to "the office". I'd then roam and rove wherever the rails led, in search of new vantage points. I'd try to avoid getting skunked by being in the wrong place at the wrong time - behind a stopped freight train on one railway, missing a flood of freights on the other. Picked up for lunchtime, invariably as a CP westbound was pulling in to work the yard, after lunch it was back for another hours-long stint trackside in the afternoon. Suddenly it seemed, it was suppertime, just as VIA was pulling in! It was not unusual, in the cool of the evening, over at my aunt and uncle's house, to hear the wail of windborne whistles and the bellicose bunting of freight cars being shunted in the yards. Not to worry about trains missed -  there would be more to observe tomorrow, and I had numbers to transcribe before bedtime!

Once I was old enough to drive, they kindly lent me their car. This allowed me greater range, and I was able to photograph nearby elevators. The large, rising slip-form concrete bulk of MPE's high-throughput plant at Tucker got me thinking...this must be the shape of things to come. There was no time to lose. 
I took some time usually reserved for Portage to travel to the happy hunting-ground: Saskatchewan. My aunt and uncle upon my return from Saskatoon in 1986 (above) wearing their typical office attire. Stopping over in Portage in both 1985 and 1986 heading to or from Vancouver, I rented a car in Regina and Saskatoon, respectively. I followed my pre-planned route based on a provincial road map to visit elevator towns. Some surprises - at some towns, there already were no elevators left. Conversely, I encountered some that weren't expected, at points not shown on the map. Due to the number of stops on my route, each one was necessarily brief. Just enough time to photograph elevator row and maybe one other photo angle, or some other item of railway, agricultural or historical interest. Kodak 35 mm film was expensive. Can you tell that this occurred in the pre-digital camera, pre-GPS era? Not surprisingly, many of the towns I visited are now without elevators. I had made it in the nick of time.
The end of one part of the journey, the start of another. A couple of fellow travellers, boarding VIA No 2 at Portage at the same time as me with my knapsack and suitcase. I was travelling in Chateau Rouville's roomette 4. Want to read more?
Wat to view all my plethoric Portage posts? Check out the Railfanning and Modelling Portage la Prairie link widget in my right sidebar -->

Running extra...
It's a long-shot, but there's Longburn elevator (above). Quite awhile ago, I contributed photographic support for an article on a Freelanced Canadian Prairie Branch by Russ Bonny appearing in the current Layout Design Journal. Russ has done some interesting research! Preview pdf copy here.
Two new cars at my CN freight shed through the generosity of Mark Charlebois. A faithful Trackside Treasure reader, I'd like to share an excerpt from Mark's thoughtful letter that accompanied the cars on their trip west to Kingston, 

"Thank you for your thoughts that you share with us. It truly is important to offer more to the collective than just trackplans or superficial details regarding a sought-after locomotive or rolling stock, or perhaps even a locale. To share details is the basis of our hobby; the desire to help other modellers or share information so that the knowledge isn't lost to time. Seldom do folks offer thought-out, novel ideas that don't revolve around personal gain, the rat-race of modelling elitism or some war that one is waging on, say, a manufacturer or country."

Our shared goal is to make that REA reefer into a San Luis Central one that mirrors the SLC 232 I photographed (only Hanley Spur rolling stock photo!) in April, 1979. Mark is also a VIAphile. It's really easy for us to absorb VIA's Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa schedules right now - one train each way per day effective March 31:


JasonPaulSailer said...

Great memories Eric! Thanks for sharing, I enjoy seeing these types of posts!

Eric said...

Thanks, Jason. It's enjoyable for me to look back on these travels I made when I was young and foolish. Now I'm older and foolisher, and I'm glad to hear others enjoy reading along, too.
Thanks for your comment,