Go west, young man
Keeping the Peace
By Tom Lessard
In the spring of 1958, there was a posting on the board for an increment to go to Wainwright, Alberta for three months attached to the RCEME (Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) workshop. Of course I applied, and was accepted. I boarded the train in London and met up with the unit in Toronto. The CNR, in its wisdom, gave us our own car along with a porter.
In those days it was generally accepted that most of the men were not averse to having a beer or two. We had a number of Korean and WWII vets with us, a couple of whom tried to teach us younger fellows how to drink. At Sudbury, we had a stopover of a couple of hours while we waited for the cross-Canada train to link up with us. First thing we did after disembarking from the train was to hop a cab and head for the beer and liquor stores to load up. We were going to be on the train for at least two and a half days, so we didn’t want to run dry, but that is what happened.
The porter got word that CN detectives were going to board the train at Fort William (now Thunder Bay) looking for booze, so we collected money and lists from all the guys. They elected me to do the shopping; I got off at the station, jumped into a cab, drove to the appropriate stores, loaded up and headed for Port Arthur (10km down the track).
Arriving at the station, I watched our car for a pre-arranged signal from our porter. It wasn’t long before I got the okay to pull up to the train, unload our booze, pay the cabbie and get on board.
We went our merry way to Calgary and our marshalling area. Calgary had only one drawback for me. At the time, I was a Legion member. One day at about 1 p.m., one of my buddies and I were looking for something to do when we spotted a Legion branch downtown. Hoping to play some pool or darts, we entered the building. We were met at the door and were asked what we wanted. We told him and he asked if we were members of this particular branch. I told him that I was a member back in Ontario. No good. He then asked if I knew any member of this branch. I said no. “Sorry, if you’re not a member of this branch, then you are not allowed in unless signed in by a paid up member.” By the way, we were in uniform. So much for western hospitality.
Despite this experience, I was so impressed by what a beautiful country we live in. I had hitchhiked across in 1956, but had never been able to see it the same way as from a dome car. The north shore of Lake Superior has to be one of the most spectacular sites in our land. The flora, fauna, tunnels and wild animals are breathtaking. I have been all over the States, to Europe and the Middle East; put them all together, and they run a distant second to Canada.