This Levis is a fascinating place to spend five-twelfths of an hour, and I was sorry when we started the long crawl back to the heights again, I said before we went away down to tidewater to get to Levis, and now we've got to climb back up on the hilltop again. For the next six miles, the train just kept moving and not much more, and I could have jumped off and paced the train. In the old days they used to use a pusher-engine here, but now the bigger power has to scale the heights under its own steam.
You were just about to get into Levis in this last Geography Lesson, but the conductor hasn't given the signal to leave Charny yet, and I want to hold you at this stop, eight miles west of Levis, to give you the railway picture. I have already digressed on the ill-conceived National Transcontinental Line to Moncton over the Quebec Bridge. I want now to point to a line that the old Intercolonial wasn't so dumb about. It runs from Charny to St. Charles, 14 miles east of Levis. But instead of going away down to the level of the St. Lawrence, and then climbing up again, a business that means extra locomotives and is hard on the freight profits, this line keeps to upper strata. It says in effect at St. Charles to the passenger line: "You take the low road and I'll take the high road, and I'll be to Charny before you." Thus any freight train could beat any passenger train along this stretch, if occasion for a race ever rose.
Bound For Father Point - a Geography Lesson, Published 5 July 1934I got the thrill of my life when I went aboard the Empress at Father Point on her last voyage in. All my reportorial life I have wanted to make that trip, and last week I was able to gratify this long-deferred ambition. I can say sincerely that I often thought about it, imagined what it would be like, and planned how I should make the trip. And the fact that the realization in every way was a thousand times better than the anticipation makes me feel the luckiest of men. I am not striving for effect nor fine writing, when I say the Father Point trip is one of the highlights in my not inactive career. I use the verb "is" because although the calendar says the trip is past, I am still living most of it over in enticing retrospect.
I do not think I shall be able to kindle in you, anything like the enthusiasm this trip has given and is giving to me, for I am not smart enough on the typewriter for that, but I will pick you up at Bonaventure Station, aboard the Maritime Express. The big 6017 lifted some empty fish cars and a good quota of passengers out of the fire-trappy station on this June day, and pretty soon, we were a whole 1.5 miles away at St. Henri. Certainly the most interesting entrance and exit to Montreal is via Victoria Bridge, not the least interesting part of it being that the track doubles back and runs along almost parallel to the waterfront, thus giving a great view of the city over your left shoulder.
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The train passed St. Hubert, where the quarter million dollar mooring mast that has anchored only one dirigible since it was built stands, a silent reminder of R-100 which came to Montreal, and the R-101, which was to come and didn't. You could hold a dance in one of the rooms in that mast, and even at the top of it, you could run a bicycle around the top gallery, 200 feet up. The airport itself is semi-deserted, a far different aerial picture than the vigorous days when Hon. Peter Veniot was firing postmasters and building up an airmail service; the good times when Hon. J. L. Ralston was replying to Agnes Macphail and keeping our Siskins in shape.
Crossing the Richelieu river near the foot of Mount Beloeil, the rain started to fall, and I never emerged from that rain the rest of the trip. As the miles were clicked off east of St. Hyacinth, where we crossed on to the old Intercolonial tracks, I began to think how many thousands of anxious office seekers must have passed by those same fields and farm houses, up from the Maritimes with high hopes and small claims, seeking political pap from the potentates at Ottawa. How gleefully triumphant they must have ridden the parlor car back or how glumly frustrated they must have crouched in the second class, on their way back. Borden, Fielding, Tupper, they all rode the Intercolonial, as they came up to Ottawa the first time on the road to political preferment. And a lot of the now-forgotten boys rode it on the way back, too, to political oblivion.
As they cursed its service and inefficiency, its tardiness and its grime, its political bungling and its ancient equipment what did these 19th century giants and pygmies and in-betweens think? Certainly, in that long ride, policies which helped Canada must have been planned; ward politics that stunk the nostrils must have been schemed.
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But I leave these old Intercolonial mental ghosts to you, and pass on to that rather uninteresting land that exists between Drummondville and Levis. The train passes through a semi-cleared country that evidently offers little agricultural promise, for I can in no other way account for the fact that much of it is unfilled, in a district that knew the plow back in the 1600's. When I came through here in 1918, there was a great deal of unfenced property along the right-of-way, the sure-fire mark of poor land.
One unpaintcd station with the word "Laurier" stencilled on it caused a man in the diner to mark: Is that the best Quebec could do for Laurier? It is. Despite the fact he is the greatest political figure that Quebec ever produced, the most his native province has done for him in the way of town-naming is a little straggling hamlet away down in Lotbiniere county Actually there is a place in Manitoba, on the Winnipeg-Dauphin line, called Laurier, not so very far from Hon. T. G. Murphy's Neepawa. But the truth is that Quebec, which reveres the St. Lin boy, cannot seem to have done him geographical justice.
When you get down near St. Apolllnaire, you can see the Laurentians away across the river to the north, and a few minutes later, as you dash into Charny, you glimpse the Quebec Bridge. Charny is where you turn north if you are going into Quebec city. The old National Transcontinental runs across the famous Quebec Bridge northwards from here, and southwards toward Monk and Edmundston, N.B The line, which is not far away from the old Intercolonial, and none too distant either from the Quebec Central, is just another one of our political railway disasters, for actually, though it was supposed to be a short cut from Quebec to Moncton, is only 24.1 miles shorter. Can you imagine such a crime as that! Here they built a new railway 473.4 miles long, from Quebec to Moncton, over a fabulously costly bridge it took more than a decade, two failures and many lives to build, to save less than 30 miles. For from Levis, opposite Quebec, it is only 407.5 miles to Moncton, the long way round. No, Senator Cox wouldn't wait, and his impatience is causing us a couple of millions a week. At that I believe in public ownership, but pork barrel railway building is the leech that is sucking Canada into near-bankruptcy. Levis next stop.
Levis from the Train - Geography Lesson, Published 10 July 1934
But if you stood out on the back of the train, as the line falls toward the river you'd get a big kick out of the down grade from Charny to Levis. The road drops and drops and then some, the train rolling easily around the curves as more and more landscape gets above you, and less and less of it stays below you. The geographies all say that Levis has only about 10,000 people, but in approaching it, you feel you are coming into a city of 100,000 at least. The old city makes the most of its strung-out waterfront.
The one-man street cars cross and re-cross the highways, bob in and out among the trees, and keep pace with the slowly rolling train. You slide down past paved highways and blind end streets. One-man street cars bob in and out of the trees alongside you, as the tracks run sometimes down the middle of the pavement sometimes along the side of it. You look into the backs of houses and see maman getting supper. You notice ruins of old buildings nearby where her grandmere or somebody else's grandmere got supper. The shore line is just teeming with interest, as you drop througth St. Romuald, Hadlow. Point Levis and Levis.
Then if you turn your eyes toward the river, you discover with a little thrill that you're looking at tidewater, always worth a tingle if you're a landlubber, and worth good many tingles, they tell me, if you've lived along the ocean and then have exiled inland. Old Man Atlantic may not be right beneath Cape Diamond, you reason, but you get a hint that he's just down the river a little way now. You see queer little craft that only salt water produces. You look at ribbed, daylight-diffused hulks worthy of the Ancient Mariner's most delirious fancy. You fascinatedly follow the green painted hull of the tramp Gitano, going up stream to get a cargo for Aberdeen, and the dingy Wanstead returning light, her wheel visible out of the water, as she plods back to North Sydney bunkers for more coal.
As you get a glimpse through queer little gardens reclaimed from high tide areas, you see the sight that thrills the world. No one can gaze on Quebec and not be exalted. Something happens inside your heart - inside your head, when you look at Quebec for the first time - or the 1000th! You can't look across that less than half-mile of water and be indifferent. The names Sillery Cove, Plains of Abraham, Beauport Flats leap right up at you out of the history books. You see the centuries spanned when you view the old Cathedral, its predecessor the worshipping place of Montcalm, today the church of the Taschereaus. You can't quite see the old guns of Cape Diamond that you know are there, which fired at the French with British ammunition, and some of which have fired at the British with French ammunition. I was realistic enough to look at the long empty shed at Wolfe's Cove where I would be when the Empress of Britain docked 26 hours hence.
The guy who picked the site for the Chateau Frontenac, and the chaps who did the architecture have between them, done as worthy of Canadian commendation as Sir Christopher Wren was when he designed St. Paul's. I could talk about Quebec all day, and you would soon be snoring soundly over your Citizen, so I shall skip Montmorency and Ste. Anne de Beaupre and Sous le Cap and the hundred other spiritual, aesthetic and historic delights, and bring you back to Levis, which you never left anyway.
Few people know that Levis has its Upper Town and Lower Town like Quebec has. In Lower Town there are a few hotels the post office, the railway station ferry dock, and one street right under the cliff which is dominated by a religious institution. If you want to get to Upper Town you take a tram that starts down the river, but ends up finally on the main thoroughfare above you. You can also meander east a few hundred paces, climb a hundred steps, and mount to a lookout that commands a marvelous view of Quebec. There is an iteresting, narrow, winding road to the west of Levis station, and alongside this road are queer, broad-boarded circular steps that twist away up and around out of sight in their ascent ito Upper Town. If you do get to UpperTown in the 25 minutes the leisurely Maritime Expess waits in Levis, you will see the 18th century structures and chain stores incongruously clashing. And you'll bound past a place on the tram that re-echoed to the shots of Kirk fired in taking Quebec. But the conductor has just given the engineer the highball, and the 6017 gathers speed for the run to Riviere du Loup.
Crawling Up From Levis - A Geography Lesson, Published 13 July 1934
While I was watching the slow ascent of the train, I had plenty of time to look over at the Isle of Orleans, that insular anachronism alongside the thoroughly sophisticated city of Quebec. The Isle of Orleans is the sort of place that ox-carts get off the roads to let air-flow motors go by, where the 18th century clashes with the 20th in the most unexpected ways at the least likely moments. Within eye-shot of No. 2 highway, and the gay Chateau Frontenac, these Gallic peasants have lived partially cut off from the world. Today Premier Taschereau unfortunately is putting a bridge over to their island at heavy and perhaps unwarranted cost, but time marches, whether the voters want it to or not.
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You can see too, the white spot far beyond the island which is the mighty Montmorency Falls, and the towers of that famous shrine, Ste. Anne de Beaupre, are also just around the bend behind the tree. But I was most interested at the moment in Lauzon drydock, where the Pennyworth had just been towed. After being on the rocks near St. Jean d'Orleans for about seven months, she was salvaged and taken to the drydock. The going aground of this ship caused a great many snickers among the Hudson Bay route Westerners. It seems that when the S.S. Bright Fan went down in Hudson Strait in 1932, and disgorged a lot of Cockney and Arabian sailors huddling into rowboats, the pro-St. Lawrence-anti-Hudson-Bay-route folk all guffawed loudly, and the chorus intoned, "I told you so," pretty frequently. But when the Pennyworth went aground in the St. Lawrence, last November, the On-to-the Bay crowd had a big laugh. By the way, I am not fooling about those Arab sailors. The Bright Fan's potential sheiks and erstwhile tars were a queer lot when I saw them, but what the sons of the sand must have looked like, amid ice floes of chill Hudson Bay, I can only imagine. A picture of their faces, as huddled in open boats on that frigid sea, and gazing ruefully at bergs would, I bet, have made any rotogravure section in the world.
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I have, I know, only given you the sketchiest picture of the dozen miles on this and the other side of Levis, but anybody who did it justice would write so much about it nobody would read it, and I am afraid I have overtaxed your patience now with what has already been typed. But dark has gathered, and while the train whizzes past the old sub-divided seigneuries, with their arpent wide farms, I am going to take you inside the smoker, to meet the folks.
About the last place I saw in daylight was Montmagny, the shire town of the county by that name, so prominently represented by Armand LaVergne. Incidentally, in all his years in the House of Commons. J. S. Woodsworth, C.C.F. leader, has never quite managed to say Montmagny correctly. He pronounces it with his eyes instead of his ears. I saw the agricultural college at Ste. Anne de la Pocatiere, in Kamouraska riding, and represented on Parliament Hill by a professor, Georges Bouchard. When I drew attention in the smoker to the college there, veterans who have been riding that line for the past ten years, about twice a month in summer, admitted in some be wilderment they never knew the town had an agricultural college before. English-speaking Canadians are never done learning about Quebec.
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In the smoker of the Shediac were a number of people going down to meet the Empress of Britain. You might think that meeting this ship is a routine affair, but it is not. Meeting the "Britain" is almost a business to be gone about reverentially. For instance, a United States customs man and a U.S. immigration man make the long run down there, just to get people lined up for entry into American territory, perhaps 1,000 miles from where the ship docks. But not only are U.S. and Canadian customs men to be found, but the train abounds in ticket agents, baggage handlers, railway clerks, and government officials who merely stroll down to the dock casually when an ordinary ship puts in at Quebec, but go down to Father Point for the Empress with a certain self-conscious pride. They try to let on that their chore is a routine job, but just the same, they feel just a little bit elated.
Among the chaps in the smoker was Harvey Pulford, Jr., now of Quebec city, and he told an interesting joke on himself. Once, during a wartime hockey exhibition game, when all the old Silver Seven were squeezed into uniforms and hoisted out on the ice, young Pulford went to a hockey match. He did not have his glasses on, and seeing a big fellow out in center ice, he asked the man next to him:
"Say. who's that guy?"
"That," said the man indignant at his neighbor's terrible ignorance, "is Harvry Pulford the great Harvey Pulford."
Turning beet red. young Harvey thanked his informer meekly, and never said another word.
"That" remarked young Harvey, "was the only time I ever saw my father play - and I didn't know him when I saw him."
Old-timers will be interested to know I picked up some dope in the smoker about Doc Crippen, which I shall retail in the next Lesson..