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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 way. 

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 Bay. 

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 the 1880s.  

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.  www.rootsweb.com/~onogs/ogs.htm  

The book (Pioneering on the C.P.R.) is also available in full on line at www.ourroots.ca.

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