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When the Steel Went Through
Toronto


ON OUR ARRIVAL at Toronto, Mather went to see a cousin of his, Mrs. Erskine, whom he had not met before. As a result of that visit, I was kindly invited along with him to stay with her until we got a position. The Erskine household consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Erskine and a small son six or seven years old. Mr. Erskine was accountant in the office of a mortgage-and-land company, the name of which I don't remember.

Having thus so unexpectedly and so fortunately been given a home in which to stay until we got work, I lost no time in calling on Mr. Ross with my letter of introduction from Mr. McIntyre; and I took Mather with me. Mr. Ross received us pleasantly, and talked with us about the work we had done in Scotland. He himself was an engineer, and had served his apprenticeship in Scotland, too. So he knew fully what we should be capable of doing; and he encouraged us by saying that he hoped to have a position for us before long. He took our address, and we left well satisfied with our prospects.

Some few days later we had a letter from him there was no telephone then saying that he had given Mr. Brown, a land surveyor in Toronto, some work that he wanted done at once, and had asked him to employ us both on it. We therefore made haste and called on Mr. Brown. He told us the work was not very intricate, just some measuring with a tape at the railway station. He put on his coat and hat and went off with us to the job.

The work was simply the locating of the position of a number of existing railway tracks, with a view to making a plan of the station. Measuring with a tape may seem very elemental; but it has its special technique. Mather and I had been trained in that technique, and to work together speedily on just such work. So we were in our element, and Mr. Brown had all he could do to keep up with us as he recorded in his field book the measurements we called out to him. We put in the whole afternoon at this work; and I feel free to say that we showed Mr. Brown a perfect example of team work. When we had finished, he said that that would be all, and that if we came to his office in the morning he would settle with us. We were somewhat taken aback at this, as we had hoped he might have work for us for a few days, at least. But we rose to the occasion, and magnanimously declined to take any pay, on the understanding that he told Mr. Ross that we knew our work, and could do it. And that was the end of our dealings with Mr. Brown.

While awaiting further developments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to visit my Uncle Peter Turner who had come to Canada the previous year and settled on a farm near Hornby, a flag station on the Credit Valley Railway, about 30 miles west of Toronto. He had a large family, seven sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Peter, was at work in Chatham, New Brunswick; and the second and third sons, Robert and Willie, were the only two who were old enough to assist him on the farm; and even at that, they were still but boys in their teens. So he was having quite a struggle to get along.

I set out on my visit on the understanding with Mather that he would send me word immediately, if anything turned up in the way of work. I had a very pleasant visit, and was glad to find my uncle and aunt, and a large group of cousins looking so well and happy. I got a real warm welcome, and an invitation to stay with them as long as I could. My visit here, however, was abruptly ended on receipt of a letter from Mather, saying that I must return at once, as he had heard from Mr. Ross that we were to go to Peterborough and start work on a survey party there.

When I returned to Toronto, I found that Mather had gone on the survey party. I felt rather depressed at this, as it seemed that I had been left. But on calling on Mr. Ross to explain why I had been unable to go with Mather, he just smiled and said that he could make use of me in the draughting office.

So he gave me a note to H. S. Holt, the engineer in charge of that office on the floor above. Holt was not at all communicative when I presented this note. He simply read it and said he would start me to work the next morning.

Having now got a position, I felt I could no longer stay with the Erskines as a guest; but I made bold to ask Mrs. Erskine if she would let me stay as a boarder. And she did. So the Erskine's home became my home too; for I was treated as one of the family, and was frequently taken with them on visits to their friends; and I went to church with them on Sundays. Their house was on St. Vincent Street, then well out in the suburbs.

I well remember the great satisfaction it gave me, in writing to my father, to tell him of my good fortune in having got a position which would enable me to keep myself; and also, in having found such a good home to live in.

The Ontario and Quebec Railway on the engineering staff of which I was now placed was projected to run from Toronto to Smith's Falls. It was generally understood to be a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was virtually an extension eastward of the Credit Valley Railway a railway which had been built some years before. (Both of these railways, it may here be noted, were eventually taken over by the C.P.R., and now form part of the lines between Montreal and Windsor, via Peterborough and Toronto.)

The Credit Valley Railway had been built under the direction and management of James Ross. Holt too had played a part as an engineer on the construction of that railway; and continued with it, as its operating engineer, as well as being engineer in charge of the draughting office of the O. and Q.

For quite a time there were only the two of us, Holt and myself, in that office. Then Crossley, an architect, was given a position; and some time later, another draughtsman, Graham, was added to the office staff. The Chief Engineer was Hugh D. Lumsden, but it was only occasionally that he made his appearance in the office, as he spent most of his time with the survey parties in the field.

As these parties got finished with their surveys, they came in from the field one after the other to finish their plans in the office; and get ready for construction work. Mather came with one party, and needless to say, I was delighted to see him. He, of course, stayed with the Erskines, so we had a few happy evenings together, telling of our experiences, until he had to leave again to take up a position as assistant engineer on construction of a section of the railway at Norwood.

The arrival of these parties was, however, rather upsetting to the regular work of the office. Some among them were quite indifferent about the state in which they left their tables, on quitting work for the day; and would leave them littered with plans and drawing instruments, in a very untidy condition. This, naturally, annoyed Holt; and in order to put a stop to such practices, he drew up and signed a notice which he pinned on the wall. I don't remember the exact wording of this notice except the last part which I quote but it was to the effect that all plans and profiles, and drawing instruments, were to be put away in drawers before leaving for the day......"so that the tables may be cleaned by the caretaker.

H. S. Holt,
"Engineer in Charge."

The morning on which this notice appeared, it was read without comment; but the next morning it caused some amusement; for it was found that the words "the caretaker" had been erased by someone and now read: . . . "so that the tables may be cleaned by

"H. S. Holt,
"Engineer in Charge."

Holt removed the notice without saying anything about it at the time. But it had evidently touched him; for, after all the members of the party had gone, he remarked to me that he was glad to see the last of that gang.

Among the prominent engineers of the day, whom I met at that time, was George Middleton. He was then revising the location of the O. and Q. on some of the heavier parts of the work. He was a frequent visitor at the office, and I had many interesting talks with him. He was a capable explorer, and it was said of him that the only baggage he took with him on his explorations was a brush and comb, and a pair of extra socks, in his pocket.

When he finished his work on the O. and Q., he was employed by the C.P.R. to make an exploratory survey of the route along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

He had no use for elaborate reports; and many years later, when talking with me on the subject of reports, he told me that he had made no written report on that survey, but had just gone to Van Home and told him all about it; and on this, Van Home went ahead.

Alexander Middleton, George's younger brother whom I had not yet met, but was to meet and be intimately associated with, a few years later was then division engineer on the O. and Q. at Sharbot Lake.

In the spring and early summer of that year, Winnipeg and the North West were the absorbing subjects of conversation. The boom was on; and trains leaving for Winnipeg were crowded with people hoping to get there in time to get in on the ground floor. The route to Winnipeg was a round-about one, by way of Chicago to St. Paul and thence by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Rly. to Emerson, and from there by the Emerson Branch of the C.P.R. to Winnipeg.

The news columns of the papers were made up, in great part, of the names of prominent citizens who had gone, or were about to leave. Gus Nanton a young man in the brokerage office of Pellat and Osler whom I had met, was one of these. In Winnipeg he became a partner in the firm of Osier, Hammond and Nanton; and years later was well known as Sir Augustus Nanton. W. B. Scarth whom I had also met was another. He was manager of the Canada North West Land Company, a subsidiary of the C.P.R. to handle its town-sites. So he too played his part in the development of the West. In after years I renewed acquaintance with him in Ottawa, where he had settled down as Deputy Minister of the Interior.

With the coming of summer, the Island, with the good bathing facilities it had on the side beyond the Bay, became the great attraction; and on Saturday afternoons I generally joined the glad throng of bathers there. The beach was sandy, and the water was pleasantly warm, so the bathing was most enjoyable.

Occasionally, I would vary these Saturday visits to the Island, by spending a week-end with my uncle at Hornby. There was a creek near the farm with quite a large and deep pond in which he, and the boys and I, had a merry time with swimming and diving competitions.

Hanlan, champion oarsman, was then much in the limelight. He had a hotel on the Island; and in recognition of the many congratulations he had been receiving on his successes, he from time to time would entertain groups of his friends at his hotel. I happened to be in one of these parties, through Erskine, who had received an invitation for himself and friend; and he took me along. Accompanied by Hanlan himself, we were taken to the Island in a steamer chartered for the occasion. He had the boat first circle the Island several times before landing us; and by that time he had got so twisted around that he didn't know where he was, nor did he recognize his own hotel when the boat drew up alongside the pier. It was a great night.

One Saturday afternoon, I took an excursion on the S. S. Chicora to St. Catherines and back. The trip going was pleasant; but on the return trip a strong head wind was blowing, and I had the unpleasant experience of being on Lake Ontario in a rough and choppy sea. I escaped being seasick by a narrow shave; and I was one of the few who did escape. The great majority lay strewn all over the deck in a state of utter collapse.

For facility in construction, the O. and Q. was divided into four divisions; and these were each further divided into three or four sections. Each division was in charge of a division engineer, with assistant engineers under him, each in charge of a section.

The names of the division engineers beginning with the division starting from Toronto were McKee, Bray, Perry, and Middleton. I can only recall, however, the names of four of the assistant engineers, namely, Noble, Mather, Dodwell, and Hazelwood, each in a different division. Of Mather no special mention is here needed, but the others I met at one time or another in the course of construction.

By fall, construction was well under way, and Lumsden was more frequently seen at the office. From time to time he would take me out with him to make some surveys he wanted, with a view to revising the location of the high bridge to be built across the Don. On one of these occasions, I had my first experience with snow-shoes. Lumsden showed me how to put them on, and then started me on a trial tramp. The lesson was not hard to learn, and I soon was tramping beside him with perfect ease.

I had not been long in Toronto before it became perfectly clear to me that politics were taken there just as seriously as they were in the Old Country. The issues, however, were very different.

There were two daily newspapers, The Globe, and The Mail. These were the oracles that, from two opposite points of view, claimed to voice public opinion; and in doing so, they expressed their own opinion, the one of the other, in language that by no stretch of the imagination could be called courteous.

Erskine was a subscriber to The Globe, and a copy was delivered at the house each morning. So it was from The Globe that I got my introduction to the political questions of the hour. It was some time before I read, or even saw The Mail, but, if I was to believe The Globe, I hadn't missed much.

Toward the end of the year there was a provincial election looming up, on the question of Provincial Rights, and The Globe kept before its readers the great wrong it claimed had been done to the province of Ontario, in establishing the boundary between it and Manitoba. It maintained that the latter had, by this boundary award, been given land which rightly belonged to Ontario.

There were many campaign meetings of the advocates of Provincial Rights, prior to the election. I attended one of these held in the open on a vacant lot down town. As an encouragement to the faithful, a man on the platform sang a supposedly appropriate song, the only words of which, that I now remember, were:

"A traitor is at thy throat Ontario; Ontario."

The words "Ontario, Ontario" were so monotonously repeated in each verse, with the final sound of oh long drawn out, that the song sounded to me more like a wail, than an urge to victory. However, when the election took place on 27th February, 1883, the Mowat government the champion of Provincial Rights was returned to power.

In the spring of 1883 I was put in charge, under Noble, of part of his section, as he had so much to do in connection with the building of the bridge over the Don, that he could not well look after the whole section alone. The part that I had charge of was the west part, from its junction with the Credit Valley Rly., eastward through north Toronto to near the Don. A house that stood on land which had been acquired for right of way was our field office. It was very near the site on which North Toronto Station was later built.

By the end of spring, Mr. Ross was appointed Superintendent of construction of the C.P.R. west of Winnipeg, and left Toronto about that time. Some few weeks later Holt, too, left to fill the position of Assistant Superintendent. Before he left, however, he told me he would try to find a place for me in the West also, one better than the one I then had. So, early in June I received a wire from him from the End of Track, somewhere on the prairies, saying, in effect: "Come here at once".

Naturally I was highly pleased, but I was duty bound to give Lumsden a month's notice. However, when I asked him when I could leave, he said he would not stand in the way of my promotion; and he kindly waived notice. Moreover, he wrote me a very nice letter of congratulation, in which he expressed his regret at my leaving, and certified as to the work I had done, and to my capabilities. So that is how my work in Toronto came to an end.


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