Elmira Railway Museum End of the Line and Rails to Trails
8 September 2002
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
Welcome to Elmira Railway Station.
Elmira Railway station was built in 1912, and served the Eastern Kings community for many years. The storyline for this exhibit includes the stories of individuals who were interviewed in 1994 and 1995.
Sadly, some of these voices are now stilled. We have their recollections basically, unedited. There may be differences in the stories in the dates and the names.
The accompanying photographs are from a variety of sources, and include current photographs from the museum, situated in eastern Prince Edward Island.
We hope you will enjoy your visit through this fascinating part of our Island's past.
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
On April 5th 1871, the contract to build the N.R. from Alberton to Georgetown was given to W.H. Pulp and in October the work began. There was no limit set as to how many miles, this meant that they could go around hills and
There was a limit of five thousand pounds per mile ($20, 000). It was not always feasible to go over a river and the cost soon added up. By 1873, the railway debt was $3.8 million. The debt drove P.E.I. into Confederation in 1873 and the Government took over the debt.
The railway opened in 1875 from Alberton to Georgetown with branches to Souris and Tignish. It was to take another forty years to complete, the last major extension to Elmira was completed in 1912. Elmira Station was the most eastern station.
In the winter of 1931 a train went through the end of the track in Elmira. It was thought the driver was from Nova Scotia and was not familiar with the area.
Arriving in a snowstorm he did not see the lights that marked the station and the end of the track, causing him to come crashing through the barrier into the snow and crossing the road, only to come to a stop in the ditch. Those waiting for the train and those attending a farmers meeting heard a deafening noise. The wreckage crew from Charlottetown and the Souris crew we called in to untangle the mess.
A horse shed across the road from the station was missed, only to be saved by the ditch. One horse at the far end belonging to Jim Campbell, was the lone occupant that night. This mishap brought about a new rule in 1935. Drivers were assigned to designated routes that they were familiar with.
Each station was built to accommodate the area, i.e. size of population, amount of freight being shipped and received etc. Elmira had five sets of tracks running off the main line. Since Elmira was the end of the line, a turn table was
used in the early years. A pit located below the turn table was used for changing oil, grease and for doing minor repairs. Across the turn table was a two room engine house where the engines were put at night, especially in the winter months.
In very cold weather, pots containing seal oil were lit and placed under the engine to keep it from freezing. A two hundred foot coal shed held enough fuel for both railway and local use. A barn to shelter horses, a bunkhouse for crews and sectionmen and small shacks for the conductors and engine crew were all a part of the Elmira station.
Elmira had only one full time employee, the station agent. The station was probably the only one with two waiting rooms, one for women and one for men. It has been said that the women's was used for card playing and later used as a baggage area.
Wet cell batteries were used to light the station. Elmira had fifty batteries and as many as two hundred were used at the larger stations. The batteries were filled with water and a bit of soda to keep them from boiling over. Although they charged themselves, the station agent added water as it was necessary.
Batteries were also used to light passenger cars. Railweights were 56lbs, 65lbs and 110lbs (off Island being 220lbs), weights changed over the years to accommodate larger freight cars on the wide gauge. The spikes used to hold the rails in place were numbered using the year date. The date was one way of knowing when the rails and tie should be replaced.
Although water towers were located along the route, the engines would sometimes stop at brooks and streams. While passengers waited, they would get off the train and pick berries.
Each conductor had a different design on his ticket punch. By looking at the design on your ticket he would know at which station you boarded the train and who the conductor was. Those who boarded the train without a ticket would buy one from the conductor.
Greenvale residents would stand beside the track and wave a red hat or scarf to flag the train to a stop. Frequent or daily travellers could buy season passes for a cheaper rate. Clergy travelled for half fare and wives of the employees were given free passes. All tickets sold were entered in a book by the station agent and conductors.
By 1912, expenses were high and 580 people were employed. Snow shovellers were kept busy in the winter. One train was stuck for three weeks as snow shovellers worked on two levels. Men travelling on the train had to step up
onto the snow when the train was "stuck solid" east of Harmony in 1940.
The first snow plow was bolted on and had no flexibility. The driver ran the risk of overturning the engine when hitting a large snowbank at high speed. Later, the plows were made more flexible lowering the risk of derailment. Snow had to be cleared from between the rails and a machine called a "flanger" was used. A wing plow pushed the cuttings further back from the rails.
When called to work, plow drivers, sectionmen and snow shovelers had to get to
work any way they could. Some rode and pushed trolleys, others walked or rode on horseback.
While at work, sectionmen used torpedoes as a warning signal of danger, the torpedoes held just enough powder to make a loud noise. Snapped to the track to hold them in place, the train wheel would run over them setting of an explosion. The noise warned the driver to slow down or stop.
A hoop located at the end of a bamboo stick was used to pass a message to the driver without having to stop the train at whistle stops. As the agent stood on a platform the hoop with the clipped message was grabbed by the driver as the engine passed. On occasion the driver would pretend he couldn't reach it forcing the agent to run alongside of the engine until the hoop was grabbed. The hoop would then be returned on the next train. It was similar for the mail bag as well, only the mail bag was hung on a hook from the station's eve and the driver would grab it as they passed.
In 1875 the Souris Station was built on the southwest side of the bridge. The tracks ran across the Souris beach and at times caused some problems. Sand had to be swept from the track every morning and at times were submerged underwater. In 1877 the station was relocated to Souris.
Trains were the main means of transportation, they moved freight for export and import opening up a whole new economy for P.E.I. Although business was good, the railway never made a large amount of money. With the demise of the railway, stations were sold and were used for houses, cottages, and garages. Those that were never sold were left to fall into the ground.
School children were taught about the railway and had to know each branch. Beginning at either end, they were required to recite and spell the names of each branch in sequence.
The railway provided time tables for all trains on P.E.I., as well as stage coach and ferry schedules and a list of hotels and their rates.
The Seacliff Hotel in Souris cost $1.25 per day or $5.00 per week.
In the fall a farm excursion train went to Western Canada. Island farmers would go west for the harvest and return home at Christmas with money in their pockets.
When the train pulled into Elmira station and stopped before the Y, it meant that someone was bringing home the remains of a loved one. As a sign of respect, all passengers stayed on the train until the family was safely off.
In 1949 the first diesel engine came to P.E.I. and within the decade the steam engine became obsolete. The more powerful engines held a greater potential for disaster. The Island's worst accident killed four people.
Passenger service was discontinued in 1969. In 1972 Elmira was one of sixteen stations to close. In 1973 it was acquired by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation and opened as a museum in 1975.
Railway signal, on display at the Elmira Railway Museum.
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
April 8th, 1875
Prince Edward Island Railway
Mr. Swinyard, chief engineer of the Department of Public Works, was sent to the Island to investigate the construction of the railway. In two reports about the construction of the railway, Mr. Swinyard said "the Local Government has been far from evincing a generous spirit of fair play and good will towards the general Government in the legitimate inspection of the railway which it had been deemed necessary should be made before it was finally assumed by the Dominion."
Many obstacles were put forth to prevent a timely and proper examination of the railway before it was taken by the local authorities off the hands of the contractors. Delays in the railway were not due to the contractors but to the Dominion Government.
Contracts had limitations about how long and where the railway should go. The location of the branch lines was performed by the Government engineer; but it is shown that the Island Government, in some cases exceeded the utmost limits as given in the first contract, so that sharp curves and heavy gradients are the ruling features of the railway.
It was not until the middle of November that Mr. Swinyard finally got to inspect the railway. Through the courtesy of the contractors and not the provincial authorities was he able to do his job. His inspection concluded that "it was only too obvious that the railway had not been completed in a satisfactory manner, that the terms of the contracts were not followed, and that omissions and deficiencies exist to a very grave extent resulting in the amount of one
hundred thousand dollars. The designs and specifications have, in many instances, been totally disregarded, and it is impossible for any one to read the very able reports submitted by Mr. Swinyard without being convinced that it would have avoided great trouble, difficulty and expense if the assumption of the railway by the Dominion Government had not formed a part of the compact by which the Confederation of the Island was secured."
Dr. Ephraim Bell Muttart, M.D., M.P.
Souris, Prince Edward Island
"Island Argus" - November 28th, 1875
Railway Meeting At East Point
Lot 47 and the vicinity, assembled in Lakeville Schoolhouse, on the 11th inst., for the purpose of agitating for an Extension Line of Railway from Souris to East Point. The meeting was organized by appointing Samuel Hooper, Esq., to chair, and the undersigned Secretary.
The meeting was addressed by many individuals weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a branch line to East Point.
Alexander Beaton, Esq. talked about the advantages of a branch line through this much neglected portion of Kings County. He said it would be constructed with less expense than other parts of the Island that were intersected, and to avoid which graceful curves and costly culverts where necessary.
Laughlin MacDonald, Esq. stated the extension line will benefit people, especially farmers who had to take his produce over roads, hilly and dangerous. Although it may be picturesque to tourists, it presented to the farmer an unwelcome and serious hinderance to the rapid transportation of his surplus commodities.
John A. Morrow, Esq. also spoke. Many who had opposed it's inception on the ground that social disorganization and financial ruin would be the inevitable consequence were present this evening, earnestly recommending the present agitation for immediate construction of nine or ten miles more. He was happy to say that bitter prejudice had almost, if not entirely, disappeared. He always believed in narrow gauge roads and felt confident that with more powerful engines and experienced officials, they could be worked successfully.
Lawrence Kickham, Esq. had no hesitation in saying if any people in P.E.I. had a right to a railroad, it was the people of East Point.
Dr. Muttart (in photo on the left) said he was always a railroad man and had travelled, to long, over the crooked and hilly post road to East Point, not to be in a position to appreciate the conveniences afforded by railroads. If there were any two political acts of his whole life to which he could revert with feelings of self-congratulation, they were, having recorded his vote in favor of the Railroad and Confederation.
Whereas: The inhabitants of East Point and vicinity being denied the natural advantages of harbor accommodation with which many other portions of the Island are favored, thus living in a comparatively isolated state, possessing no facilities for the rapid transit of their surplus produce to market, a circumstance highly detrimental to the development of the latent resources of the community;
Therefore Resolved: That it is the unanimous opinion of this meeting that immediate steps be taken to urge upon our Local and Dominion Governments the propriety of adopting such legislation as will be calculated to secure the passing of an Act providing for the early construction of an Extension Line of Railway from Souris to East Point, and that petitions be presented to the above mentioned Governments with the view of securing these results.
Canadian National Railway Telegraph and Cable office, now situated in the Elmira Railway Museum.
31 August 2002
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
Mary Margaret Jarvis, nee MacPhee, was a station agent during the war, she ran the station for a year and a half. Margaret often went to the station with her mother, the station was a very sociable and exciting place for a child.
You know everyone, where they were going and why, you were first to know who was home on leave from the war etc. One of the duties of a station agent was to walk the track and write down the number of each car waiting on the siding. This had to be done everyday and the list was given to the conductor, followed by delivery to the office.
Near the station there is a mill dam (it is still there today) which was home to beavers. The beaver blocked the stream which caused the water to rise and the overflow ran across the tracks.
The water under - minded the railbed making the line unsafe. The track had to be shut down for several hours while section men made the repairs. The station was opened only when a train was due, and stayed until the freight was picked up.
The Jarvis family never lacked when it came to company. Men hauling potatoes by horse and sleigh would come to the house to boil the kettle for tea. Friends taking the early morning train would arrive the evening before and spend the night. Horses were terrified by the hissing steam and smoke, the whistle and grinding of the iron wheels on the steel rails. They would find comfort at the family barn until the train left.
Margaret and her brother Bernard trapped rabbits one winter and sold them to the engine crew for .10 cents each. The young entrepreneurs provided the crew with supper and earned good money for their efforts.
The rails provided people and communities with a lot of enjoyment. Picking gum from a spruce tree was a favourite past time for the children. For this work to go easy you needed a flat sharp instrument. The problem was solved by putting nails on the track, when the train ran over the nail they had a nice flat pick.
Sunday afternoons were spent running on top of the freight cars left on the siding. Walking along the track to go fishing at the Black Hole, located between East Baltic and Fountain Head, was a favorite past time as well.
The track was the route taken for berry picking; wild strawberries, blueberries and raspberries were found in abundance. To make the trip more fun it was a must to do a balancing act by walking on the rail.
A trolley was borrowed one time by two young boys. The two wanted to go to Souris and decided that the hand pump trolley was the fastest way to get there. Knowing they would be in trouble if someone saw them they left the trolley at Harmony Junction and walked cross country on the final lap to Souris.
Jack Pierce from Elmira bought pigs and shipped them to Charlottetown. Before leaving they had to be stamped, this procedure was watched with great interest by the young ones. Jack always had time to and entertain the children.
It is said that strange noises and whistles were heard along the stretch of land that later became the railway. At Campbells Cove lights were seen, the sound of voices laughing, and crying and a short time later a provincial park was built. These were thought to be forerunners by some in the area.
While living near the railroad Margaret dreamed about taking a trip on the train. The dream came true when she was seventeen. Leaving the Island to find work in St. John N.B., the entire train was put on the ferry in those days.
From St. John, Margaret moved to Montreal, vacation trips home were always by train. She was very disappointed when the train stopped running. Margaret feels that the tracks should have been left. Train rides would have been a drawing card and a fun thing to do for tourists and provided they provided many jobs for Islanders.
Telegraph desk and equipment, at the Elmira Railway Museum.
31 August 2002
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
Many people were connected with the railway in some way, whether it be those working for CN or those who just enjoyed the train and the excitement brought with it.
Margaret's brother, Garfield Carter, shovelled snow for the railway and would often wish for a storm so he could make some money. Rock Cuttin' was a bad place for holding snow. The plow was usually in front of the train with shovellers in front of the plow.
Picking up the mail at the station with a horse and wagon was a duty that Margaret's step, grandfather undertook. It was not unusual to see many children riding with him instead of the mail, except at Christmas when he often spent the better part of the night sorting it for delivery.
The railway workers and station agents were friends to everyone. On entering a station the first thing you noticed was the smell of pipe tobacco. The station was a wonderful place to meet friends and catch up on community news. A favorite thing Margaret used to do on the way home from school was go by the Souris Station and peek in the windows just to see who was there.
During the Second World War, messages came in on the key notifying families of the missing in action or those killed in action. Soldiers who lucked out and came home on leave could be sure of a welcome, everyone would be at the station to see what he looked like in uniform.
Like many Souris people, Margaret would take the train to Harmony to go berry picking and in May they picked May families. Entire families would travel on the train just to go to some nice spot for a picnic.
Margaret liked the trains and rode on them as often as possible. After work she would take the train from Souris to Harmony to visit her sister who lived on the Souris Line Road. When she moved to St. Charles, after she was married, she used the train to go into Souris to do some shopping.
On one occasion, her husband Henry, put their daughter and 2 1/2 year old niece on the train and left. The train began to move, puzzled by the fact that her uncle who she called "daddy" wasn't with them on this trip, she looked at her aunt and asked, "daddy push the train?"
In closing, the trains should have been left on P.E.I. The roads were never built to handle big trucks and the amount of traffic the Island now has.
Train travel today, is still a great way to go; you are treated with kindness and courtesy; meals are very good and are part of your fare. One thing missed in a recent trip to Ottawa was the conductor going through the cars calling out the stations in a sing-song voice. Now they put up a sign at the front of the car for the next station.
On May 24th in the 1920's, a young man was killed when he jumped off the train, slipped and fell under the wheels. Willie Praught was in his twenties.
Station Agent's office at the Elmira Railway Museum.
31 August 2002
Elmira, Prince Edward Island
After a brief stint with the navy, Vernon returned home to P.E.I. in 1964 and spent seven years as relief agent for the railway, working in stations from Elmira to Summerside, but mostly in the eastern part of the province.
Getting a job with the railway was not so easy. These jobs were much sought after as they paid well and were continual, with room for advancement, as the older employee's retired.
As new positions became available employee's were offered to compete for these positions, but they usually went to the person with the most seniority. As well, good old politics played a roll in getting railway jobs although this did not eliminate the applications to be filled out and the exams to be completed.
Exams were held in Moncton, N.B. and for those that were accepted, course's were taught on all aspects of running a railway. Morse code was one thing you had to know, and although Vernon was already taught this with his Navy experience, the railroad version was different, "backwards" was the way he phrased it.
All orders and messages were sent by key, as it was called, and the station agent had to be able to understand and write the message first.
Agents took great pride in their ability to send quick and accurate messages and their feeling's were badly hurt if something had to be repeated. With safety always being top priority, the agent would report the time of arrival and departure of the train, also any changes in orders for the train crew were received on the key. This was an open line and all stations received messages at the same time that way each station up and down the line knew where each train was at all times.
The agents were responsible for all the bookkeeping for the station.
Ticket sales and C.N. money orders were also sold at many stores in the area. All freight had to be weighed and prepaid, the agent would take the cash, money orders, etc to the bank and get a bank draft which was sent to the Moncton Office.
Parcels from catalogue orders as well as goods for the stores in the area were received and sorted. Freight cars for potato growers were always requested for by the agent. This was not always easy for if he requested ten cars, he may only get six, which had to be divided among the farmers. Many farmers were rather angry and the agent had to take the brunt of the anger from irritated customers. Vernon considered himself very lucky for he always seemed to get the number of cars he requested.
The railroad was also very accommodating and would hold up the train for someone coming in late with a load of potatoes. Some of the people shipping potatoes during this time were; Freeman Mossey, Willie Fraser, Norman and Kermit Bruce, Joe Fay and Arthur Dixon.
As Vernon was working down in St. Peters one day, he received a call telling him that a motor trolley was spotted headed for St. Peters
without a driver. Taking his yellow key to switch the tracks, he made his way out to the tracks. Not satisfied with that, he ran up the track and placed two bars across it so when the trolley struck the bars it would jump the track. It was then he saw some children playing in the trolleys path.
Sprinting up to them he removed the children and seconds later the trolley went by at about 25 mph hitting the bars and flying off the track before coming to a stop. The answer to this bizarre mystery arrived a short time later. Very worried, badly shaken and with many cuts, scrapes, and bruises, the roadmaster, who was on his way to Souris from Charlottetown, had leaned from the trolley looking at the tracks, overbalanced and fell out, rolling down the bank into the woods. Needless to say, he was happy to learn that no one had been hurt and the runaway trolley had been stopped.
Being a station agent was rarely dull and very interesting, you were the first one to know who was coming or going. Telegrams were sent and received by the agent so he or she knew who was getting married or who had died.
Telegrams were received from Ottawa for congratulations to the winners of the latest elections. People came to the station to get weighed and one of the fun things the agent would do was to set the scales ten pounds heavier for the women. Folks also came just to visit and sit around the pot belly stove where the tea pot was always on.
Stations were often host to visitors from the railroad offices, supervisors and heads of departments. On one surprise visit to Elmira near the end of the freight era, Vernon was caught building lobster traps in the station, the first signs of worry quickly disappeared as his guests began to laugh and ask all sorts of questions about building traps and lobster fishing.
During the last year that the freight train ran to Elmira, G. MacIsaac from St. Peters ran the station at Elmira and the station was only opened as needed. Passenger's travelling a long distance were able to arrange for a compartment or berth at their local station.
These cars were either boarded in Charlottetown or the Mainland, cars boarded in
Charlottetown were put on the Borden ferry for Amherst where they were picked up to continue their journey. Passengers returning to P.E.I. could be held up in Moncton due to storms, Vernon was held up for three days while trying to get home on leave from the Navy.
Since Elmira was the end of the line for the east run, a section of track was built into a "Y," so the train could turn around and make it's trip back to Charlottetown.