Travelling to the Harbour in “The Old Days”

From the Summer 2010 edition of The Key Exchange.

“Back in the Days” when many Key Harbour summer residents were working or had worked for the Canadian National Railway, we travelled to Key Harbour by rail. The highway was not completed until 1954.

It was, and still is, a wonderful way to take a journey. Of course, many CN workers had a “pass” which entitled them to a coach seat for the worker and each family member up to a certain age.

Coming from Capreol, we had two choices. We could catch the passenger train #51 going south or the wayfreight which travelled south every other day except Sunday.

From the south, Toronto, you only had one option which was #52, the passenger.

The Passenger Train was exciting; there was no fooling around, the crew had a schedule to keep and they wanted to arrive at each stop “On Time”. So when we got on be that train we sat in our seat and read comic books until we got to our destination, Key Jct. #51 left Capreol about 8 p.m., travelled to Sudbury Jct. and sometimes would back in to Sudbury (Algo Yard) and my Dad would get off the train to run to Borgia Street for ice cream cones. We were always afraid he’d miss the train so we’d always wait anxiously for his return. He always made it back in time. The train arrived at Key Junction about 22:30 railway tim, 10:30pm for the rest of us. At Pickerel River, the men in the group getting off at off at Key Jct. would go up to the baggage car and prepare to get out belongings off. Pickerel River was the last station before Key Jct. On these trips we didn’t take much baggage, just a suit-case and a box or two as the passenger train just stopped long enough for us to detrain. The brakeman put down the stepping box and we hurriedly got off the coach. Two toots on the engine whistle meant the engineer was starting to pull so you’d better be off and out of the way. The passenger train had a schedule to keep and we wanted to arrive “On Time”.

Now, the wayfreight was a totally different experience. Much more fun. I would accompany my sisters, we would get on the combination car – baggage and coach, with the kids, my nieces, and the dog if there was one, and our cardboard boxes all tightly tied up with rope and labeled “McKay, Key Jct.” and most important “The Lunch”, All aboard for 1000 hours and the trip began. The station boards or sidings were read out by all of us: Suez, Sudbury Jct., Coniston, St. Cloud, Waterfall, McVitties, Burwash, Bayswater, Pickerel River and Key Jct. People got on and off at these locations with canoes, tents, camping gear, propane stoves, fridges, wood stoves, and just about everything else you can imagine. The orders for the train were hooped up to the crew by the Agent at the various stations. Sometimes there was a long wait due to track work or work trains or whatever. In these situations, one of the crew, conductor or brakeman, would come through the coach and let us know there was going to be a wait “enough time to pick a basket of blueberries”. Lots of us did. Usually the regular crew on the south wayfreight was Engineer Ernie Goddard, Fireman Henry Lambovitch, (my soon to be brother-in-law), Conductor Art Waddell, Baggageman George Hog and Brakeman Bob McGowan. We shared our lunches and had lots of conversation. Conductor Art Waddell always had fresh, cold milk for us. If our run was good we’d arrive at Key Jct. around 1300 and all baggage destined Key Jct. was off loaded from the baggage cars and on the flat cars of the Key Harbour Jitney. We always called that transportation “The Jitney”. Another exciting holiday had begun. We all preferred the south wayfreight given a choice, because so much happened on the trip and everyone knew one another and it was like one big family, like the Railway used to be.

Mary Taggart related to me how they would travel from Cleveland to Key Harbour by rail, her father also worked for a railroad, the C & O, Chesapeake and Ohio. That account is covered in Bill Campbell’s book “Georgian Bay and It’s People”, page 68.

But the trip I found interesting was the first time they drove up from Cleveland, probably in 1948. Aunt Pauline, Mary’s father’s sister, her friend and her son, Mary’s cousin Bob who was 6 foot 7 inches, drove up to Cleveland from Huntington, West Virginia. They arrived in 1940 LaSalle to pick up Cecil, Bill and Mary Stanley. Mary was 18.

I remember hearing of a LaSalle but had never seen one, so here is a little history on the automobile: The LaSalle was an automobile product of General Motors Corporation and sold as a companion marquee of Cadillac from 1927 to 1940. The two were linked by similarly themed names, both being named for French explorers – Antoine Laumet de le Mothe, sieur de Cadillac and Rene-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, respectively. The LaSalle was offered in a full range of body styles, including Fisher and Fleetwood Metal Bodybuilt custom designs. The roadster could also be ordered in two tone colour combinations at a time when dark colors like black and navy blue were still the most familiar colours produced by manufacturers. The design even included a nodto the inspirational Hispano-Suiza, with the marquee’s circled trademark “LaS” cast into the horizontal tie bar between the front lights. In its final years, the Lasalle once again became more Cadillac in its appearance and details. One interesting feature adopted by LaSalle in these years, was a Sunroof, marketed as the “Sunshine Turret Top”. Production Start 1927, Production End: 1940.

As I was saying, this was to be the first road trip for the Stanleys. Mary said it was a good thing the automobile was so big because there were 6 people in the vehicle, one of whom was 6 ft. 7 in. and they carried all their gear and a lot of food. There were suitcases in the trunk and boxes and trunks tied down to the top of the car. Can you picture it? Of course the women were in dresses and the men in good clothes too. The route from Cleveland took them along the shore of Lake Erie, through lots of small towns so just from Cleveland to Buffalo took about 8 hours. Once they crossed the border they found a place to stay. In those days it would be a gas station, restaurant and motel all combined. She remembers the rooms were separated by curtains and the toilets and showers were in another building.

The next day, they got an early start and drove to Britt, it took all day, the road for the most part was gravel and it was slow going. The road ended at Britt and they made it just in time to catch Wright’s transfer service or boat taxi at 4:00 p.m. There were two trips a day from Britt to Key Harbour, one leaving at 7:00 a.m. and one at 4:00 p.m. A round trip ticket cost $6.00 to the Harbour. By the time they arrived at the Nickel Plate Camp they had experienced two full days of travel. The LaSalle didn’t let them down and the trip was quite comfortable though a little crowded.

Note: I had written this at home, when I got to car, I looked in our old papers and found a bill from “Mallette’s Imperial Station Imperial Gas and Oils, Atlas Batteries, Outboard Oil and Grease, Key Harbour Ont:

One Round Trip [Dad]1.20
Three Round Trips [McKay Girls]1.80

I’m thinking where it says Express, it came off the Passenger Train #51. The other freight came off the wayfreight. So this is what was charged on the “Jitney” from Key Jct. to Key Harbour.