||September 22, 2006
Early History of C.P.R.
(1883-1886) a Fascinating Read
Florence Howey (1856-1936)
the wife of Dr. W.H. Howey (1855-1929) wrote a book called Pioneering the C.P.R.
about her and her husband’s pioneering experiences in Northern Ontario when the
C.P.R. line was being built in through the Community Voices area and beyond in
1883-1886. She wrote it in 1936, fifty years after the early events and it was
published two years after her death in Sudbury in 1938. She creates a real
sense of time and place as she describes her young husband’s work as a C.P.R.
doctor serving the workers as the line progressed through Mattawa, North Bay,
Sturgeon Falls and Sudbury with several stops in long gone locations along the
|North Bay in its early days
When she wrote the book in
1936 she was the oldest pioneer in Sudbury. She describes the coming of the
railway and its extension west, the early buildings and her many adventures of
interest to Community Voices readers. After her initial arrival in Mattawa, her
travels through North Bay and Sturgeon Falls and beyond they spent three years
in North Bay later before settling in Sudbury. Particularly fascinating are the
details of the rough conditions, for example, in a small temporary community on
the side of the right of way being cut west past the Veuve River, a mile and a
half west of Warren.
In spite of the extremely
harsh conditions riding on flat cars, sleeping on floors, dealing with black
flies she remained remarkably accepting of her early life. She and her husband
had a real interest in native people and went out of their way to get to know
them. One interesting outcome of their friendship with a native people on
Whitefish Lake west of Sudbury was the gift of two baby moose which they briefly
kept in their back yard. One of the many excellent pictures in the book shows
Dr. Howey and his occasional C.P.R. partner from North Bay Dr. Archie McMurchy.
They helped each other with difficult operations, emergencies, etc. Dr.
McMurchy is North Bay’s first Doctor and he receives a long write up in North
Bay’s 1925 Anniversary book. His grandson Donald was also a doctor in North
Mrs. Howey was often
without her husband while he was on his many trips up and down the line. She
often went on excursions with friends. When he got the job in 1883 he went
ahead without her and she finally got a letter saying he was at “Sturgeon Falls
(wherever that was)”. He had to do some serious negotiating to even allow her to
come into the wilds.
She had some harsh words
for the General Manager Mr. Worthington who is remembered by a street named
after him in North Bay.
She describes life on the
“Tote Road” cut by the surveyors as a preliminary trail establishing the
eventual road bed. Small temporary communities much like the pioneer lumber
camps were set up every 5-6 miles to accommodate the men. Most locations
eventually disappeared but some became stops on the finished railway.
When she arrived North in
March 1883 after a long trip her husband met her at Pembroke and, riding on a
flat car, they arrived in Mattawa and stayed at Peter O’Farrel’s Hotel.
They then proceeded to
North Bay with the only other passenger John Ferguson the founder of North Bay
and on to Sturgeon Falls. She tells how Sturgeon Falls had a store run by James
Holditch which did a lot of trade with local Indians. There was a Hudson Bay
Post on the Sturgeon River where the museum is today and some lumbering.
|Dr. Howey & Mrs. Howey in
Their new temporary
headquarters at “the Veuve” was not ready for 3 weeks so they stayed in the
boarding house under rough conditions. Their rough hewn log house on the Veuve
was an adventure beyond belief. She always found something positive to see
wherever she was and did at the Veuve. She was also very funny in some of her
many stories. No booze was allowed but it appeared by smuggling or by every
possible production method imaginable. On one occasion she heard singing and
walked to an Easter service for a large number of men at the side of the track.
Space does not allow for
more details. The 160 page book mostly focuses on Sudbury where the Howey’s
settled and lived out their lives with Dr. Howey as the senior doctor. The book
was out of print until 1967 when a local high school took on its republication
as a Centennial Project. It was out of print again until recently when the
Sudbury Branch of the Ontario Genealogical society republished it with some
added materials. The book sells for $15.00 ($4.00 shipping) and is available at
OGS Sudbury Branch c/o Greater Sudbury Public Library 74 MacKenzie Street,
Sudbury P3C 4X8.
The book (Pioneering on the
C.P.R.) is also available in full on line at
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