Category Archives: Train travel

Remembering Dad for his birthday anniversary June 4

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Growing up – back in the grey ages of course, I spent some time with my dad doing simple things. He seemed to take on the role of teacher as well as parent. Family members used to say he was proud of his little princess. Yes, that was me. Hard to believe it now as I’ve turned into a motor-mouth opinionated person. There is a back story there but that’s not for today’s post. Today, I want to honour my late father – Albert Louis Joseph Eugene Langevin – because the anniversary of his birthday is this Saturday, June 4.

Dad was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1899. The Langevin family moved to Toronto when Dad was five – or so I’ve been told. Doing research in the Toronto City Might Directories for the early 1900s doesn’t show the Langevin family living anywhere in Toronto until  a few years later. And believe me I have looked in all the earlier directories – bending on my knees and moving four heavy directories at a time to a table on the second floor at the Toronto Reference Library. But some of the family history I didn’t know comes out in these short, simple directory listings. For example, I knew Dad didn’t serve in either World War – too young for the first war and too old for the second. But one of his brothers, Uncle Paul, did serve in the First World War. Considering Paul’s age at the time it wouldn’t surprise me if be lied about his age to get in. That was done back then.  From 1918 Dad worked for the Grand Trunk Railway and then the Canadian National Railway when the latter swallowed up the former. Dad worked in the main Toronto office, then on Front Street and connected to the big Union Station on Toronto’s Front Street. Most of his work life there was as a time-keeper. That might explain his penchant for insisting everyone and everything always be on time – no excuses. But his job gave Mom and I free train rides and that’s how we travelled for our summer holidays – to my Mom’s family farms near Lucknow and Mildmay, Ontario and longer trips to Detroit (more of Mom’s relatives there), Buffalo, Rochester, New York City and Quebec province.

Only Child's Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Only Child’s Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Dad married my Mom, Julia, when he was 40 in November 1939 and by the time I came along he was 49. He was often mistaken for my grandfather with his then grey, and later white hair. Yes, he spoke French in his earlier years, but lost that ability over the years living in Toronto. It was actually embarrassing when he, Mom and I went for a holiday in Quebec province when I was 14. We got away with English only in Montreal but not in Quebec City. Dad had to find a bilingual cab driver who helped us find a bed and breakfast to stay.

Only Child's late Dad under Mom's rose archway

Only Child’s late Dad under Mom’s rose archway

Mom was the gardener in the family – with me learning the green thumb tricks from her. But Dad had a few up his sleeve. When he mowed the lawn – with a push mower – he also showed me how to do it and let me do a bit. Same for watering the lawn. But when it came to the trees and shrubs in the front and back yard, he could be a bear.

You see, my friends and I used to set up our dolls and their “houses” (turned over doll or small people suitcases) for rooms. We would have kid-sized dishes and then we would go get “food” for our dolls. “Food” wasn’t berries from the garden, but we would pick and pull leaves from the big and small shrubs. Dad caught us at it once and came charging out into the backyard and gave us you know what for doing damage to trees.

Dad also taught me to ride a bicycle – but not until I was almost 10. I would sit on this 28 inch wheel bike with my short legs and feel barely reaching the peddles and feel terrified that I would fall off. But Dad held onto the front handle with one hand and the back of the seat with the other and steered me along the street. That got me some teasing plus from my friend the Bully. But I did learn to ride the bike on my own, albeit just on the immediate neighbourhood streets which had little traffic. My favourite place to ride a bike was on country roads by my cousins near Lucknow, Ontario. I would ride one of the boy’s bikes or one of the girl’s bikes – depends on whom I was riding with. The terrain might have been tough (gravel roads, not paved) but the only traffic – if any – was the odd car and tractor.

Dad also was very protective, perhaps over-protective as shown by his teaching methods. But I still loved him.

But, when he got cancer in his brain when I was 12, things changed so much. I found myself distancing myself from him. In hindsight I think it was a protective measure for when he was gone. Mom and I knew that the cancer would eventually kill him and it did when I was 16. He was 66 when he died.

I still miss you Dad.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child with her parents at grandpa's farm near Mildmay, Ontario

Only Child with her parents at grandpa’s farm near Mildmay, Ontario. Sharon is holding one of her many dolls

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, cancer, Gardening, Mom and Dad, Only child, Toronto, Train travel

Only Child focuses beyond the four-letter words

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child contemplates then and now

Last week I posted dark. Maybe because a lot of what I’ve been experiencing lately is what is described as “going to hell in a hand basket, ” although the basket keeps increasing in size that it is now too big even for the Jolly Green Giant. My postings, my feelings, are a micro reflection of what is going on in the world today – from terrorism to wars to the weather. I’ve posted about that before, too.

Back in the “good old days” when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s life was simpler but not perfect. In the macro realm, most women stayed home with the kids and didn’t work; there was a lot of racism, and the extreme weather conditions were flukes not every-day occurrences. The only extreme weather I lived through was Hurricane Hazel. Our house didn’t experience any flooding. My late Mom said it was because we lived on a hill.

We also didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and other social media that get abused today (think cyber bullying) and no Internet. The latter, along with email would have been useful. Instead we had landlines (rotary dialing which I couldn’t do now if you paid me), and transportation – we actually had trains going into rural areas carrying people not oil tanks that exploded.

But I’m a railway brat. My late Dad worked for the CNR so Mom, Dad and I got free train rides, a bonus for our holiday travel.

Behind all these good things in the past, there was underlying darkness. I was bullied but it was the in-your-face type of bullying and despite my intense shyness (thanks to being an only child of elderly parents), I did fight back, often more like a clown. In my memoir which I am currently rewriting, I write:

Mom’s uses subtler tactics. How else to explain our silent collusion when one day the Bully and I get into it with words?

I don’t remember the issue, but we’re standing outside on my front veranda. The Bully is letting me have it; I am burning hotter and hotter inside. Mom must hear us because when I run inside to get a knife, she hands me a ruler. The Bully knows she’s in trouble and she runs down the steps. Brandishing the ruler like I’m Zorro without the mask, I tear after her down the stairs, down the street, and around the corner. I’m steaming with how good it will feel to whack her one across the back and head, but she is too far ahead of me. Unlike Zorro, I have no horse, only my short eight-year old legs. I go right up to the side door of her house after she dashes inside. I yell and shake my ruler. I wish I had the nerve to run into her house and finish the job, but what will her mother think and do?

Maybe Mom is trying to protect me by teaching me to stand up for myself. (excerpted  from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2014 Sharon A. Crawford)

And maybe that has something to do with why I became a journalist.

The biggest darkness of my childhood was when my Dad got cancer. I was almost 10 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It spread to his brain. Six and a half years later he was dead. Compounding living with this was living with betrayal – I found out Mom had lied about the lung cancer – Mom said Dad had TB. The Bully told me the truth.

So, life is never 100 per cent rosy or 100 per cent crappy.

But the balance of rosiness to crappiness has changed drastically since we entered the new millennium. Something is off there and hence the big big (and growing “basket) taking us to hell or whatever you envision as hell.

Shouldn’t the good be more than the bad? Or am I relying on life “back then” instead of  “life now?”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Life demands, Mom and Dad, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel, Uncategorized, Weather

Only Child lessens the travel load

Only Child loves train travel although engines aren't steam anymor

Only Child loves train travel although engines aren’t steam anymore

As I prepare for my annual holiday to visit my cousins in southwestern Ontario, I’m trying to lessen my luggage even more than other years. VIA Rail’s new rules of two carry-on bags plus personal (a purse) have partially inspired me. When growing up and riding the rails with Dad and Mom, we each had one suitcase (I had the small one in the two-piece set and Dad had his duffel bag). I’m not going to get it down to one suitcase, if you count laptop, Kobo, camera and even house-slippers in the laptop case as one bag and my clothes in bag number two.

Things like an umbrella and my small insulated lunch bag will be the challenge. Because of travelling time and being on the train at meal time – but meals not served – I bring a lunch. The umbrella? Well, based on the unsettled weather we are getting in this world, even with cousins’ cars, an umbrella is a necessity.

Lessening my travel load has got me thinking about its health effects. Besides the obvious physical – less to carry, less risk of sprains and backaches, there is also the psychological. How many of you have found when you clear out your office or even a cupboard, you get such a feeling of relief as if a big weight has disappeared completely? Well for a short time, until you open another cupboard or enter another room.

So my packing list will be much smaller this year. I do not want to have to push down the packed clothes to be able to close the zipper. I do not want my expandable canvass bag (my version of Dad’s duffel bag) to expand so far out it almost dwarfs my short frame and pulls on my shoulder. In that stage it is also difficult to cart around, especially when stepping up and down those precarious narrow steps to enter and exit the train. With two packed to their “gills” bags and a purse (plus dangling umbrella and lunch bag) it is difficult to fit the width of those steps. I feel like an overweight drunk and all I’ve been drinking is water and my build is slight.

I’m even bearing tiny weight-free gifts for my cousins – seven copies of the CD for the band my son plays guitar and lap steel guitar in (Beams, for those who are interested www.banjobeams.com – shameful plug).

So hopefully when I get on the train, I will be able to lift the canvass suitcase up into the overhead storage and get it down without asking for help. The laptop bag? Kept under the seat ahead just in front of my feet. I usually don’t plug into the wireless on the train but I do want to read from my Kobo or the mystery magazine I bring along.

Now, I just have to keep any purchases to small and low weight. I tend to start my Christmas shopping when my cousins and I do the touristy thing in Grimsby, Stratford, etc.

How do you travel light? I already do the roll-your-clothes-up-to-pack option.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Holidays, Mom and Dad, Only child, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel

Only Child on passenger railway security

350x247xtrain1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.NleuDB37gEI’m a railway brat. My late Dad was a timekeeper for one of the Canadian railways so Mom and I got free passes to travel in Canada and the United States. I begin the chapter “Riding the Rails with Dad” in my memoir…

If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical [railway company name]” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)

That was then when train travel was more freewheeling and you could really talk about the romance of the rails. Until around 1960 there were still a few steam engines pulling trains, and up to the mid-1960s passenger trains actually ran through rural Ontario. Now, the railway company my dad worked for no longer has passenger service. In 1977, the federal government created VIA Rail for passenger service only. I’ve travelled by VIA and up to now some of the romance of riding the rails is still there.

However, it looks like it is going to change and be more like getting on a plane with security. All because of the foiled terrorist plot to derail a VIA Rail train in the Greater Toronto Area recently. Apparently VIA Rail already is doing some extra security – random searches and X-rays of baggage, sniffer dogs at stations and observing people in stations for any suspicious behaviour, plus increased training for their security staff. (See story at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/08/04/via_rail_considers_new_security_checks_for_passengers_in_response_to_alleged_terror_plot.html). At this point I don’t have problems with this setup. So far my biggest problem when travelling by train is to limit my carry-on baggage to their requirements (two bags plus one personal – for example, a purse). However, increasing it to checking everyone against a database and everyone having ID – well, good in principle. But with a common name (Sharon Crawford) that could present problems. So could the ID because I don’t have a passport (I can’t afford one and don’t travel where I need one) and as I don’t drive I don’t have a driver’s licence. I’m hoping I won’t have to get a passport to board a train that is travelling only in Canada. I just might have to get the $35 Ontario personal ID (for non-drivers) which has to be renewed every five years (and probably more money forked over at the time – unlike the provincial health insurance card ID which needs renewing every five years but is free. It also has your photo and birthdate on it – but that one is not usually accepted for security checks). If ID becomes mandatory, there better be a choice of acceptable ID.

And will the one line my Dad rushed to Union Station to get in, now turn into two or three for security purposes and permission to board the train? The big stations in the big cities like Montreal and Toronto can accommodate all this but what about smaller stations such as in Stratford and Kitchener, Ontario, which still have the original small station?

Where do they think we will line up for ID etc. checks? In the parking lot?

Of course if the service cuts VIA Rail did last fall continue, there may be little or no operating train stations except in the big cities. Also these new security measures require more funds. It will be interesting to see what the Canadian Federal Government will do here. It has decreased funds to VIA but does spend on national security.

It is really too bad that travel has turned into a security hassle and time-consuming issue. All becomes of some baddie terrorists. At least VIA Rail is not considering the invasive naked body X-Rays and other than number, the limitation on carry-on (liquids and the like) and my ex-husband’s favourite complaint – shoe removal.

At any rate my dad must be rolling over in his grave. And I don’t think his favourite phrase about the railway company – “typical (railway company name)” would even apply here.

As I’ve said in previous posts – it’s a terrible world we live in no matter where we live.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Canadian National Railway, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Railways, Steam engines, Train travel

Only Child rides the rails

Only Child with her parents at her grandfather’s farm – one of the destinations of now obsolete train routes.

I felt like I was riding history when I travelled during my holidays the past week. Especially last night when returning and I wondered if I was going to make it home or become part of this history.

Like my father before me I ride the rails when on holidays. Not the same railway that my dad worked for and he, Mom and I travelled on for our holidays. Dad worked for the CN when it ran passenger trains. Some years after he died CN quit the passenger service to focus on freight. VIA Rail was created and it started a passenger service.

Now VIA plans to cut service on a few lines within its busiest corridor between Windsor, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec, as well as cut back on the number of times per week the Maritime line runs. One of my cousins commented that we’ll all have to travel by car. Is this VIA decision a good one when we are living in pollution and too many vehicles clog up highways (space and time, too. Think road rage).

So while on vacation visiting my many cousins in southern and southerwestern Ontario, I rode the last of some of the service being ditched. Going to Grimsby from Toronto it was the evening Toronto to Niagara Falls, Ontario run. Come October it will be gone and there will only be the early morning run from Toronto to Niagara Falls and vice versa in the evening.

Coming home last night on the last of the Sarnia to Toronto run at that time, I thought the service was being cut early. I got on the train at Kitchener and the first hour and a half was a great ride which I was enjoying. Then we just pulled out of Brampton and suddenly the main lights went out; the train stopped and the emergency ceiling lights went on.

Panic – at least for me, inside. I hate to be stranded. The VIA attendant did make an announcement that the power had gone off and that she’d let us know what was happening when she knew.

We passengers were left wondering what was going on, when 15 minutes later the regular lights went on. A few people yayed. Not me. We still weren’t moving and from what I could see out the window (not much as it was dark) showed cars on a street much lower than where the train stopped. Were we on a bridge?

After some time we received another announcement along the lines of they were trying to get the train started and if not, they would have cabs available soon to drive us to Union Station. Right. How would we get to the cabs? Walk along the embankment or the bridge more likely with little space and then where and how would we get down to street level? I kept thinking “I want to go home” – when I wasn’t darting to the seat across the aisle to try and see out that window. Even darker over that way.

Finally after 45 minutes of doing the stall, the train started. No one yayed this time. I couldn’t even go back to reading my Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazine because I figured if I did, we would stop again.

Was this occurrence some foreshadowing of what is to come in October? Will I ride the rails again? Sure…on the lines still running.

But I know two things. My Dad is probably rolling over in his grave. He was always critical of CN service. If he were still alive he would be saying a variation of his “Typical (add railway here).

I think I would agree with him. Especially as 24 to 30 of us got off at the little flag station of Grimsby, Ontario on a Monday evening last week. Seems like VIA is cutting off its nose to spite its face. They are of course crying “government cuts.” The buck always stops at the consumer.

What says you about services such as train and bus being cut? (And yes, the bus service between Kitchener and Stratford has already been dumped).

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child

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Filed under Canadian National Railway, Family, Holidays, Mom and Dad, Only child, Public Transportation, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel, VIA Rail

Only Child considers a bucket list

Only Child's home and garden respite - part of the "bucket list" already done.

One of my cousins has a bucket list  – you know a list of things you want to do before you die. Up to now I haven’t really given it much thought. My parents died in their sixties and I’m getting very close to the age when my mom died. And when you are busy dealing with the daily crap coming your way, it almost seems redundant to consider a bucket list.

But my cousin has got me thinking. I have a bucket list, for want of a better word, for my writing, but it doesn’t go beyond a year. I think I’m afraid to think beyond that because it might throw a curse on it. Looking at her and other cousins’ travel photos, I started asking myself – where would I like to travel? I’ve been across Canada both ways and the only provinces I haven’t seen are Saskatchewan and Newfoundland; I also haven’t been to any of the three territories. I would like to go to Newfoundland and Nunavit Territory (both preferably in summer). I’ve also been to England and Wales. And I like to ride on the train. I’d also like to return to the other Maritime provinces – a grade school friend is travelling in his RV to the Maritimes and I read his blog and I think I would like to go back there. You can take a train into the Maritime provinces. You can also take a train out west – takes a few days but the scenery and the experience would be more interesting than a five-hour plane ride where you look down and maybe see toy-sized buildings if the clouds don’t get in the way.

That is some of what I would like to do. I know I don’t want to jump from a parachute or go bungie jumping but I’d like to ride in a helicopter, even though I chickened out 15 years ago. I don’t want to go canoeing, camping, but maybe I’d like to go fishing. Perhaps the clue here is to brainstorm for a so-called bucket list and then prune it down. As for “scheduling” when I would do what – that would depend on time and money. Right now I just don’t have the money to travel a lot beyond southwestern Ontario to visit my cousins (but I get my train ride and some interesting visits with my family). And there is my house and garden, something on the “bucket list” already achieved. I’m living where I want to in my retirement home, a small bungalow and have slowly cultivated my garden of perennials, vegetables, fruit and herbs. The garden also provides a serene place to sit and read or just enjoy the flowers, butterflies and birds.

And maybe that is part of the answer. Try to take each day as it comes. If you plan too far into the future you can get screwed.

What do you think?

And my friend’s Maritime travel blog is Thinking Inside the Box at http://phil-brunette.blogspot.com/

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Bucket List, Cousins, Death and Dying, Family, Gardening, Home and Garden, Maritimes, Newfoundland, Nunavit, Only child, Only child memoir, Peace and quiet, Reading, Retirement experiences, Risk taking, Seniors, Train travel, Travel, Trust

Only Child takes the train

Steam engine like those that fascinated and frightened Only Child when she was much younger. From http://www.copyright-free-photos.org.uk/trains/5-steam-engine.htm

Train travel is in my blood. When I look at all the security hoops of air travel, the current Air Canada customer service employees’ strike, and the high gasoline prices at the pumps, trains look better and better. As many of you have probably read in previous posts, my late father worked for CN Railways (then CNR) as a timekeeper. So, Mom, Dad and I rode the rails for free for our holidays. Back in those grey ages, trains had something else to draw me in – steam engines.  I write in my memoir about encountering a steam engine during one of these trips to my grandfather’s farm:

No steam engines on this train to Guelph – it rolled along pulled by one of the new whippersnappers called a diesel locomotive. But I get my steam engine at Guelph. We’re waiting outside on the Guelph platform for our train to Palmerston. I’m showing Darlene all the tracks way out beyond the station behind us. I see activity between two trains parked on parallel tracks. One train puffs a little steam; the other seems at rest except for the dollies of huge mailbags wheeled from it to the little puffer. The now familiar PA voice broadcasts, “Train #34 for Toronto now boarding on platform 2, Train #174 for Hamilton on platform 3, and Train #… Then I hear it … a distant whoo-oo, whoo-oo that steadily grows louder and then chug-chug- whoo-oo as another train rounds the corner. I put Darlene to my left ear and my right hand over my right ear; my purse dangles by its strap from my right arm. Thick charcoal smoke whirls up and behind the chimney top of the massive black engine charging into the station. The smoke resembles a cloud of dark incense, but smells like soot mixed with tar. This engine leads like a big black God with a stern round face who commands respect and suddenly I feel back in church. When this God grinds to a halt, its mixed bag of followers – mail cars, baggage cars and passenger cars – stop. I remove my hand and doll from my ears and fight the urge to kneel down. Mom grabs my arm and leads me to another trainman standing by another of those steel square footstools.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford. Darlene is/was one of my dolls.)

Of course, something else besides steam engines is missing from train travel today – all the routes to and stops at the small towns. Heck, many of the train station buildings are gone for good and for the small towns that still are on railway routes, the train station is like a tiny box, smaller than my living room. And these stops are often “flag stops,” i.e., the train doesn’t stop here unless someone gets off or on – and that information goes into the railway’s computer system, another change from coal and fire and water tanks along the way for those steam engines.

But some things about train travel remain – the more relaxed atmosphere inside and the scenery outside the window. Take the Canadian Rockies. An airplane-view in the sky shows small bumps below and a definite disconnect. Going through the Rockies by train puts you right there. And what about going through farmers’ fields on the Prairies and in southwestern Ontario? For those used to 21st century “essentials,” you can hook up to WiFi (or not) on trains; you can read, look out the window, talk to your seatmate, or snooze. And there is more room to put your bags – you can even bring them on board even though some railways limit the number. You aren’t patted down before getting on although signs in the larger railway stations do give security notices that you may need to open your bag for checking.

Then there are the old railway stations still left and open – from the huge Union Station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to the smaller unique ones in Stratford and Kitchener, Ontario. Unfortunately if your are going to Grimsby and Strathroy, Ontario you get those box-stations.

So, like every summer vacation, I plan to take the train and enjoy despite one physical feature of them that remains – the narrow steel steps onto the train and the precarious and small steel footstool to hoist yourself and all your baggage onto the train.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

and teaches Memoir Writing workshops

for the Toronto Public Library. Next one: June 15/11

Danforth/Coxwell Branch http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca

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Filed under Family, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Railways, Scenery, Steam engines, Train Stations, Train travel, Uncategorized, Vacations