Metis and Matane - A Geography Lesson, Published 20 August 1934So big and powerful and well-advertised are Canada's two chief railway systems, the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, that many people do not even realize that the Dominion may boast of about forty different railroads.
(Canada and Gulf Terminal Railway)
I can just imagine you saying: Well, Mr. Cross, I'd like to know what they are! But much as I'd love to write about them, that stern old taskmaster, space-sense, yanks me right back on the main track, and warns me to hurry up and tell you that of these forty railways, not the least important is the Canada and Gulf Terminal Railway.
The C. & G.T.R. is a strip of line running within eyesight of the Gulf of St. Lawrence along the south shore from Mont Joli to Matane, a distance of 36 miles. It is owned by M. J. O'Brien of Renfrew, J. A. O'Brien of Ottawa is vice-president while H. A. Green, also of Ottawa, is secretary-treasurer. The railway's head office in Mont Joli is on a nice, quiet residential street in a converted private dwelling, far removed from the railway tracks. For a railway head office, it is the most un-head-office-like head office I have ever seen.
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Like other railways, this system has fallen on harsher days. Once it had steam trains and de luxe equipment, but now, like the Temiscouata (another Canadian railway with head office at Riviere du Loup) it confines its passenger activities to motor trains. Mute evidence of the days that were but never will be, is provided at Metis Beach siding, where a paint-chipped coach, which was formerly a combined observation car, parlor car and dining car, is now used for operating purposes, if indeed for any purposes at all. There are, however, three C. & G.T.R. coaches on the siding at Mont Joli that can be pressed into service, and these I photographed; two locomotives also exist, and these I didn't.
The line's main reason for existence in summer, as far as the haut monde is concerned, is to get snooty resorters to Metis Beach. Not one person in ten that goes in on the St. Lawrence Special, a solid Friday night train rrom Montreal, even knows he travels on any other line but the C.N.R. Of course you cannot blame these unheeding vacationists, for I know of C.N.R. employes with CNR passes that have gone west to Winnipeg via Cobalt, in the old days when the Continental Limited ran over the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario, and they howled like professional wailers when they had to pay about eight bucks from North Bay to Cochrane. They didn't know their own train ever left C.N.R. tracks.
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I said that the aristocratic resorters think of the line mainly as a transportation medium to Metis, but the C. & G.T. R. runs on to Matane just the same, and they tell me that some pretty fair freight and passenger business develops in the winter time. Take a look at the map and you will find that about 500 miles down there in Gaspe are not served by railway. That means that except for little bits here and there where the trucks can get in - and then for only about half the year - every ounce of freight that goes into Gaspe has to go in by boat excuse me, ship. (Any sea-faring man will correct you if you say boat for anything bigger than a rowboat. The Empress of Britain for instance, is not a boat, it's a ship. I personally don't care, as I am a landlubber mentally, but I give in to these seagoing purists.)
So you see, if you want to go to Ste. Anne des Monts, or many other Gaspe spots lower down, you must go by ship, and now I am coming to the point - Matane is the place from which nearly all this stuff is shipped. That should now give you the correct place and importance Matane occupies in the Gaspe commercial world.
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But we are not at Matane yet, mainly because we haven't left Mont Joli. The 36 mile line boasts of two trains each way every day, and none on Sunday. The names of the towns are Mont Joli, Priceville, Leggat, Metis Beach, Plourde, Baie des Sables, Tartigou, Riviere Blanche, St Leandre and Matane.
With the aforementioned bad meal already lumped in my stomach in most disagreeable fashion, I walked up to the ticket office and bought a ticket. The price hurt, and a quick calculation led me to assume that they got four cents a mile for their transportation (instead of about 3.6) and this calculation I later confirmed. I was just about to get on the train, when I looked at my ticket, and saw that the clerk had taken the money for a return ticket and given me a single one. I hurried back, took his apologies nonchalantly, got a return ticket, and climbed aboard my motor train.
The little gasoline motor car No. 501 makes all the trips now, except when some unusual movement brings out one or two of their locomotives, and one, two or three of their coaches. This gas car, I am happy to announce, was made by the Ottawa Car Manufacturing Company, a fact printed over the door inside.
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I sat down on the sea side, and pretty soon, after stopping momentarily at the C.G.I.T. roundhouse, for no other reason I could learn than for the driver to pass the time of day with a worker there, we were on our way, and hitting it up through the distinctly open spaces.
And in the open spaces I leave you. to pick you up in the next, as we go down the Gulf by rail.
Down the Gulf By Rail - A Geography Lesson, Published 22 August 1934I left you last time on the north side of the Canada and Gulf Terminal Railway gasoline coach, as you watched the south shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence flit by. I do not know whether you have ever been curious about it or not, but I have speculated all my life as to what sort of countryside existed away down the St. Lawrence below Mont JolL I can only answer that at its best, as far as the land itself concerned, it looks like a strip of that wonderful Carleton county land out around Kinburn (where I was once a farm laborer for John Green). At its worst, the south shore resembles some of that extremely picturesque but most unproductive rocky back acres in Frontenac county.
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However, whether the land looked like the Vale of Woe or the Vale of Kashmir is of no consequence, for the joy of the trip was to go scooting through the fields in this chugging car, just about a quarter mile from the ocean. There were moments when you could see the opposite shore, from 30 to 40 miles away, but even supposing you couldn't, the glimpse of the salty gulf through the trees and over the meadow was eye-balm to me. I sat in my gasoline coach and watched a magnificent procession of ships up and down that river which has known the white man's craft these last 399 years.
There were dirty little tramps which seemed not much farther out of the water than a raft, when viewed five miles away. and there were lordly liners whose white hulls gleamed in the morning sun, as they plowed a foamy furrow not more than mile from shore. The aristocratic Franconia, with her whoopie holidayers Quebec-bound from New York, and the dirty coal ship Waziristan, headed light for Sydney bunkers, afforded tremendous contrasts. In between were the little coastal steamers, slender yachts, tugs and their tows, teutonic holidayers from New York on the Hamburg-American liner Berlin, the Elder Dempster freighter Calgary, loaded down with Canadian motor cars for South Africa the. green-painted Ellermans Wilson freighters, and a host of other craft on their way up or down this world-famous water highway. But the greatest of them all was yet to come, for the 42,500-ton Empress of Britain was due 16 hours later. Of course all this parade is more fun when you know the ships and I know most of them but I think you'd like to look at the vessels anyway, even if you didn't know a dhow from a dredge.
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Well, if I don't get away from ships I'll be talking about them till the snow flies, and so I bring you on to Metis Beach. It is a good thing that one does not have to judge a place by a casual or imperfect view of it, for if I had to estimate Metis Beach from what I saw of it, you could not sell it to me for a dime an acre. The ridge of hills running along the river above the provincial highway - the famous Perron highway - hides the view from the tracks, and all you can see are a few roof tops, and so I am afraid you will have to look elsewhere to get any line on this spot's lure.
I mentioned those hills north of the track along by the Gulf, and one of the treats of the trip was to see the half-sheltered villages with only the church spires and other high points peeking up at the railway over the hilltops. Nestled along the highway down almost at sea level, the towns looked cosy and hospitable. Sometimes you got the other side view of these villages, when they were piled up on a second row of hills on the south side of the tracks, and then it was that the church spire was a black silhouette in the brilliant sun. I don't know if this sounds interesting, and something tells me it doesn't, but take my word for it, these little French hamlets really are alluring from the train window, my dull words to the contrary.
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So we rattled along, and suddenly the train swung south, the sun came in the window for the first time, and Matane burst into view. I got off and hit out for the center of the town. As I walked along the streets of Matane, I smelt the wood fires burning, as maman got breakfast for herself and her offspring, and one hopes, for Jean Baptiste, also. It was hard to realize that it was only just the normal breakfast time now, but when you get up at 4.30 the morning seems to last all day particularly on a near-empty stomach. Not enough has been written about smells, and yet there should be a great deal written, for the nose is the most primitive of all our sense organs and incidentally the most accurate. But unfortunately it has become a bit lowbrow to refer to those things pertaining to the olfactory organ. But just the same, I know of few sensations more agreeable as you walk along a village street than to smell the wood smoke from the chimneys, particularly if this odor is rendered more delicious by the smell of newly baked bread. There is a real smell for you.
These smells reminded me of the gastronomlcal unpleasantness at Mont Joli, and ravenous though I was, I was determined not to make another mistake. Consequently with a firm step and firmer knock - firm because I was not borrowing any money - I walked over to the Bank of Montreal, and rapped on the front door. It was half an hour before that up-and-coming institution's doors should be opened and the startled manager was even more startled when I asked him, "Where can I get a decent breakfast?"
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When he had come back from the recoil, he said the hotel across the street was worthy of my patronage. I accordingly extended my discriminating custom to that caravanserai, which I think was called Hotel Bernier, and then when the last crumb was brushed off my face, I started out to see Matane. They say the bank manager acted qurerly all day.
See you on the main street.