A life shaped by the railroad 0
When Mabel Beggan saw the tracks of the CP rail line near Pembroke being removed from last week, she called it the end of an era.
“The trains were a great people mover,” she said. “I think it’s too bad they (the tracks) are being removed.”
The Victoria, British Columbia resident has a strong connection to the railroad, in fact she was born at the station at Bruce Mines in Northern Ontario. She’s had to clarify that statement many times over the years.
“I wasn’t born in the waiting room,” she said with a chuckle during an interview at her son Pat’s Laurentian Valley home this week.
When Ms. Beggan heard the train whistle last week, it was like music to her ears although it sounded different than the steam engines of old, she said.
Her parents Jack and Mabel O’Connor lived at the station because her father was a Canadian Pacific Railway station agent in Bruce Mines at the time. Although her mother had been to the hospital in Sault Ste. Marie earlier that day, she was not ready to have the baby so doctors sent her home, Ms. Beggan explained.
She was delivered by a doctor at home later that night.
As she got older Mabel became very comfortable around trains and the railroad. In those days, the children of station agents had free passes to travel by train so by the time she was eight or nine years old she would regularly go on the train by herself to the Soo for music lessons and with list in hand, she would pick up groceries for the family. There was a brand new A&P store which carried different items than they could buy in Bruce, she recalled.
“In those days we used the train more than we used cars,” Ms. Beggan said. “There was one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The train was very important for the people along the line.”
She knew her way around the train and everyone knew her including the brakemen, firemen, and conductors and she got to see different parts of the train.
“It was an education too because I got to see a lot of different places,” she said.
The O’Connors moved many times when Mabel was a youngster, first to Cartier near Sudbury, then to Schreiber, followed by Little Current on Manitoulin Island and finally to Chalk River. Each time they moved, it was for a more prominent and higher paying posting for her father.
Mabel was in her teens when the family arrived in Chalk River, which was a busy station because Atomic Energy of Canada Limited created a lot of traffic in those days. She eventually got a job at AECL, which is where she met her husband Patrick. They eventually called Pembroke home for more than 50 years.
Before she started work, she had a long distance pass and she decided she wanted to see the rest of Canada. She and her mother set out on the train towards the west. They arrived in Vancouver and eventually flew to Victoria, which is when Mabel fell in love with the city. She and Pat have called it home for the past few years. They still come back to Pembroke for the months of July and August.
“I always knew I would go back (to Victoria), but it took me a little longer than I thought,” she said.
She has only fond memories of her time travelling by trains.
She remembers the first time she actually had to purchase a ticket, to take her and a friend from Chalk River to Ottawa and she was shocked by the price as she’d always travelled for free. She suspects it was about $7, which was considered a lot of money at the time.
During war time, she doesn’t remember getting on a train without seeing service men. When she thinks back, she becomes emotional because they were just boys going to fight.
“My whole life was coloured and formed by the railroad,” Ms. Beggan said. “It was an experience and a different way of travelling. It’s too bad kids today won’t get to experience that. It was about meeting people and being connected to others.”
She remembers spending time in the office helping her father with various tasks including answering the phone. He insisted she answer the phone on the first ring, a habit that remains with her to this day.
While it was sad to see the removal of the tracks, she called it the finishing touch on a saga that was such a large part of her life.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist