Tag Archives: Albert Langevin

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 on too much research in memoir

Only Child's Dad when he worked for the railway

In last week’s session  in my Crafting the Personal Memoir taught in my home, I covered incorporating research information to the actual memoir without overdoing it. I used an example from my memoir and the old version is a doozie.

Old version beginning of Chapter  Riding the Rails with Dad:

If you’re going to travel on the train with my Dad, 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 for Platform 7 or 9 for Guelph. Dad had to be first in line at Union Station and that dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and Aunt Rita’s farms.

What did I expect when Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railways since 1918? Just before the 20th century, Canada had three transcontinental railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway – the one tied in with Confederation, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway. From 1900, railway lines had increased from 27,000 to 77,760 km (16,777.02 to 48,317.82 miles) but the extra construction and World War I had the latter two railway companies rolling on shaky financial tracks. So, in 1917, the federal government followed a Royal Commission recommendation and joined the Canadian Northern Railway with the Canadian Government Railways. The year my Dad Joined CNR, this amalgamated railway took on the moniker of Canadian National Railways. One year later another railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific jumped tracks to become part of this federal family.[i]

As timekeeper, Dad must’ve had his work cut out for him. Sure, the merger had reduced railway operating expenses, but the equipment to keep the railway running needed a big overhaul. The purchase of 8,450 new cars, 163 locomotives and 200 passenger cars,[ii] required much re-scheduling of train runs, both freight and passenger. Dad didn’t actually stand outside on the platforms and time trains coming in and going out – not like a bus inspector. He worked in the CNR Office on Front St. West, adjacent to Union Station in Toronto. He kept track and analyzed train run times from reports. Railway schedules were based on the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, until 1990 when the Canadian Rail Operations Rules came into effect. Despite “Rules,” train accidents occurred, and in 1907, the year my Mom was born, nearly 600 people, most of them railway employees, died in train accidents. Again, Dad entered the CNR workforce at an ideal time for him, as the total number of railway accidents declined after the Frst World War. [iii] But his clerk’s salary was lower than that of the more skilled engineers or conductors who actually rode the rails as part of their jobs.

(Copyright 2005 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons earlier version)

Yawn. As you can see it even included footnotes (which I’ve deleted here.) Too much information and while I tried to connect it with my Dad it just doesn’t work. After the feedback from the summer workshop with Ken McGoogan at the University of Toronto in 2005, I made several changes. Below is the version in the manuscript I’m now pitching to agents.

Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad

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 CNR” 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.

On the way to Union Station, Dad sits in the front seat of the taxi, the better to play navigator. Mom and I, with my doll Darlene, sit in the back. 

“The best way to get to Union Station,” Dad says, looking down at his watch, “is to take Broadview down to Eastern Avenue, then take Eastern Avenue to Front Street.” He scowls over at the driver. “We don’t want to miss our train.”

Not likely. Unless we get stuck in traffic on this pre-Don Valley Parkway day in the late 1950s, we will arrive an hour and a half early at Union Station.

The driver makes a right turn and Dad jumps into attack mode.

“I said to take Broadview to Eastern. We’re on Gerrard St. now. Turn left at Parliament and go down Parliament to Front Street.” Dad removes his watch and is practically shaking it at the driver.

(Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons).

As you can see I deleted all the railway history here – some of the other history is still in the chapter later on but in narrative as I saw it back then, not as my research now stated it. The watch was incorporated as narrative in this version and more on the watch and Dad as timekeeper is incorporated into narrative in Chapter 1. The rest is as they say, history.

The idea is not only to connect the history to you but to do it in a way that is more in story-telling mode than lecture-mode. Also make sure that the history you are including is really relevant and necessary to your story. For example, does the reader really care how many railway accidents occurred when my Dad started working for the (then) CNR?

I welcome any comments on this and how others deal with research in their memoir or have difficulty dealing with the research. I call too much research “researchitis.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes



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Filed under Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Union Station Toronto, Vacations