THE NEW YEAR at the ranch
began with temperatures well below zero. Consequently I did not stir far
from the house for the first week or two. But after that, it was fairly
mild for the rest of the winter, and I was able to go farther afield in
I spent some time going
with Bryce Wright to the foothills, and cutting down trees for fence
posts; afterwards hauling these to the ranch. John Turner stayed at the
ranch and looked after it while we were away. I helped also on other jobs,
and altogether had a pleasant time.
Toward spring, however, I
moved to Calgary in order to be on the spot when word should come telling
me to report for duty on the location of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway.
I put up at the Royal
Hotel, which was owned and run by James Reilly — "the people's James".
There, I made the acquaintance of quite a number of people who were
boarding at this hotel. Among these, were Col. Wainwright and his two
attractive daughters. One of these ladies afterwards was married to Thomas
Stone; and the other later became Mrs. Dudley Rickards.
I recall, too, meeting then
for the first time, Dr. Lafferty who was at that time Mayor of Calgary;
William Pearce, Inspector of Mines; Dr. H. B. Mackid; and his young son,
Stewart Mackid, now one of the leading surgeons in Calgary.
The project of the Calgary
& Edmonton Railway included a line from Calgary to MacLeod, as well as the
one from Calgary to Edmonton. And James Ross, who was still engaged in
finishing the construction of the railway from Regina to Prince Albert,
had also undertaken the construction of the C. & E. Rly.; and Holt,
Mackenzie, and Mann, were his associates on this work too.
Individually, each of these
four was prominent among the railway contractors of the day; and thus
associated, they might well be referred to as the Big Four in railway
promotion and construction.
One day, about the middle
of April, I happened to be engaged in a game of billiards at the hotel,
when I received a telegram telling me that a camp outfit was on the way
from Regina to Calgary, and that I was to take charge of it on its
arrival. I at once put away my billiard cue, and hurried to the station to
find out when the outfit was due to arrive.
It arrived that evening. It
consisted of tents and full equipment of wagons and mules; and was
accompanied by Jack Lee, who had been one of the teamsters on our locating
party the year before. He promptly got the outfit unloaded, and the mules
stabled in Bain's stable.
Stewart, who held the
position of Chief Locating Engineer, arrived the following morning, and I
learned from him that he was putting two parties in the field: one to
locate the line from Calgary to Red Deer; and the other to locate from Red
Deer to Edmonton. I was to have charge of the former party; and M. MacLeod
was to have charge of the latter. I learned, too, that Lumsden would be
the Inspecting Engineer for the government.
I spent a few days looking
over the ground with Stewart until the members of my party arrived; and as
soon as I got them together I started locating up the Nose Creek valley on
the north side of the Bow River.
I was highly pleased to
have my old friend Mather as transitman on my party. I had not, however,
met the leveller before. I remember well his appearance and genial
personality, and still retain pleasant recollections of our fellowship on
that work. But I never heard what became of him afterwards; and his name
has completely slipped my memory. So, much to my regret, I can only speak
of him now simply as the leveller.
The other members of the
party were: Cameron, rodman; Symonds and Norquay, picketmen; Simon and
Bell, chainmen; Lee, Hall, Forrest, and Bliss, teamsters; and the axeman
and cook, whose names I do not recall.
Mather had gone in for
photography as a hobby, and he took some interesting photographs of our
camp, and of the members of the party, which vividly recall the appearance
of each individual.
The party proved to be an
excellent one. Each one knew his job, and did it well. All were keen to do
their best. So, with such a party it did not take long — some eighteen
days — to get to Red Deer, and connect with MacLeod's line there. We then
moved back to Calgary and started locating the south branch to MacLeod.
Work on this location went
on as smoothly as on the north branch. We had, however, a unique
experience after we had passed High River. We found ourselves in a
district that had been burned over by a prairie fire; and we happened by
that time to have run out of stakes for marking the location line.
But our axeman, whose duty
it was to make stakes, was resourceful; and he collected a lot of buffalo
bones which were strewn all over the prairie, and used these for stakes.
The line thus marked by these bleached bones, showed up like a white
streak on the blackened prairie. It was so prominent and well defined,
that Mather and the leveller facetiously dubbed it "Bone's Line".
When we had finished this
location, Stewart and Sykes came to our camp, just outside of MacLeod, and
spent the night with us. Stewart then told me that I was now to take
charge of the draughting office in Calgary, and prepare the necessary
plans for construction; and Sykes was to revise the location back to
Calgary. This was the usual procedure in connection with locations.
Locations made by one engineer were generally revised by another. And
revision of locations was Sykes' specialty.
So I turned over the party
to Sykes the following day, and drove back to Calgary with Stewart.
I opened an office in
Calgary in a small building on the north side of Eighth Avenue, between
Centre Street and First Street West. Jack Innes was my draughtsman.
Besides being a good draughtsman he was also a good artist; and in after
years became well known for his pictures of western, and cow-boy life.
Bemster, a Dominion Land Surveyor, was also in the office, preparing plans
and descriptions of lands required for right of way.
About the middle of July,
Sykes' party arrived back in Calgary; and some of the men — like sailors
when they reach port — had to have a blow-out. The camp was consequently
practically deserted; and the job of rounding up the absentees was placed
on Bill Bliss.
He told me afterwards some
of his experiences on that job. One of these was in connection with
Cameron, one of the missing men. He had managed to get hold of Cameron,
and got him to consent to go back to camp with him. Cameron, however,
asked Bliss to first come with him round a block, and he would show him
where he had found Bell — another of the missing ones. So he took Bliss
round to a vacant corner on which an excavation for a cellar had been
made. Pointing to that hole in the ground, Cameron said: "It was in that
hole that I found Bell."
"But how did you come to
find him there?" asked Bliss.
"I was taking a short cut
across the corner, and fell in; and found Bell asleep in the hole."
Cameron evidently could
appreciate a joke against himself — birds of a feather flocking together.
Bliss finally got the
missing men all back to camp. And Sykes proceeded north, revising the
Calgary people were much
interested about this time, in watching Marriagi — well-known restaurant
proprietor — roast a steer on a spit in an excavation for the basement of
a new building, which the Hudson's Bay Company was going to build. This
roasted steer was for a barbecue which was to form part of the ceremony of
turning the first sod in the construction of the railway.
The ceremony was performed
by the Honourable Edgar Dewdney, Lieutenant-Governor of the North West
Territories. It did not need much physical exertion on his part, to do
this. He simply took his place between the handles of a wheelbarrow, in
which a few sods had been placed; and on a given signal, he took hold of
the handles, and dumped out the sods.
The Rev. Leonard Gaetz,
pioneer settler of Red Deer, then made an eloquent oration, in which he
presented a glowing picture of the prosperity which was bound to follow
the completion of this connecting link with the north. In this, he but
voiced the mind of the assembled crowd; for all had visions of untold
wealth to come through the building of the railway.
Ross, too, made a speech;
but public speaking was not his strong point. He lacked a good carrying
voice; and the only words I could catch were: "Land Grant".
This ceremony took place in
East Calgary, near the junction of the C. & E. Rly. with the C.P.R. It was
a gala day for Calgary; and the people ate and drank their fill.
Following this ceremony,
construction headquarters and material yards were established at the
junction; and I took up my quarters there. I was to have charge of the
bridges to be built.
The first of these was the
bridge over the Bow River. It was to be a truss bridge, of two spans of
150 feet each. But to avoid delay in track-laying, a temporary pile bridge
was first to be built, over which the track-laying cars, which were
expected soon from Regina, could pass on their arrival, to the north side
of the river.
Work on this temporary
bridge was started about the middle of August; with Weller as head foreman
in charge of the pile drivers and the bridge carpenters.
I had, as rodman for a few
days, P. C. B. Hervey — one of the old-time residents of Calgary, still to
the fore. I have a rather hazy recollection of his having narrowly escaped
a cold dip in the river; and of seeing him, on that occasion, clinging to
a pile for a time until rescued.
By the time the
track-layers arrived, the bridge had been completed; and their cars —
identified by the name "James Ross" prominently painted on them — crossed
to the north side of the river. The road-bed there had also been completed
by Joe Laidlaw, one of the grading contractors. So track-laying got under
way without delay.
Neilson, too, arrived about
this time to take up his duties as Chief Engineer on construction. I got
to know him well; and our intimacy developed into real friendship.
Sykes had now finished
revising the location, and his party was disbanded. The members, however,
were given work on construction. Mather and the leveller were each put in
charge of a section; and Bill Bliss was sent to me as rodman.
The bridge work was not
being done by contract.
Weller and bridge crews
were employed directly by James Ross — just as I was. So that simplified
matters in connection with my camp. Weller's camp and mine were combined
in one. I had a tent for Bliss and myself; and we had our meals in
Weller's dining-tent. Thus I was always in close touch with the bridge
The bridges between Calgary
and Red Deer were, for the most part, small. So the work progressed quite
rapidly. We moved to Red Deer toward the latter part of November, just as
winter was setting in; and immediately started work on the bridge over the
Red Deer River. The track got there a day or two later.
The bridge was on the same
plan as the one over the Bow River, two Howe-truss spans of 150 feet each;
and the framing and erection of these was to be our work for the winter.
We had comfortable quarters
in a box-car, and the winter passed very pleasantly. In the evenings we
generally had some game of cards, or checkers, to while away the time.
Whist, however, was our favourite game. We got news, from time to time, of
the doings in Calgary. One item which caused considerable excitement, was
the news that James Reilly had beaten Dr. Lafferty in the election contest
for mayor of Calgary.
The weather all through
December was mild. There were a few cold dips in January, but, on the
whole, mild weather was prevalent during that month too; and by the end of
the month the bridge had been completed.
We then set out for
Calgary; some by hand-car, and others by wagon. I was one of those who
travelled by wagon. The weather was fine, with clear bright sunshine, and
the road free from snow. The crew kept singing cheerfully on the way; and
this contributed greatly to the enjoyment of the journey.
We made the trip — 100
miles — in two days and a half; and after we had our camp established at
construction headquarters, we started work on the permanent truss bridge
over the Bow.
When we were building this
bridge, a General Election for the Dominion Parliament took place, which
created a diversion by giving us something quite different to think about,
and take part in.
Alberta at that time was
not a province, but simply a constituency of the North West Territories,
entitled to elect one member to the Dominion Parliament.
D. W. Davis of MacLeod —
who had been the member in the former parliament — and Mayor Reilly of
Calgary, were the candidates in this election. Both ran as Conservatives.
Reilly laid some claim to be an orator; but Davis had no such pretensions.
He, however, beat Reilly; and so became, for the second time, the
representative at Ottawa for the Constituency of Alberta.
I have not yet made any
mention of A. P. Patrick, a Veteran of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870.
He had been a pioneer of the west for a number of years by the time I
first reached Calgary. I did not, however, meet him then, and I can't say
just when I did meet him for the first time; but I think it was when the
C. & E. Rly. was being built. And now, at an age well over ninety, he is
still carrying on his business in Calgary, as a Dominion Land Surveyor.
Toward the end of March, I
had disquieting news of my father. Bryce Wright had just returned from a
visit to Scotland, in connection with the settlement of the estate of his
brother James, who had died but a short time before. He brought me word
that my father had had a stroke, and was longing to see me.
That gave me much to think
about. I had intended, in any case, to visit him on the completion of the
way; but the more I thought over the matter, the more it seemed to me that
it was my duty not to delay my visit till then.
However, I continued
looking after the erection of the Bow River bridge until it was completed.
And when track-laying started again, I went to Red Deer on the first train
going there, since the closing down for the winter.
I continued on the bridge
work as far as Blindman; but there I finally decided to tender my
resignation, and pay my visit to my father. It would be about the middle
of May when I gave up my position.