The Sons of Martha Cairns [1]

Harry McLean erected nine cairns - yet ten are known to exist

The Hawk Lake cairn with the CPR main line in the background.
Photo taken in August 1993 by Colin Churcher

Note: The article published in Branchline contains two editing typos for Sherritt Junction and Moosonee.  The text shown here is correct.

Harry McLean and his Dominion Construction and Grenville Crushed Rock companies are well known to railway historians.  McLean carried out many large construction projects in eastern Canada and Manitoba in the 1920 – 1940 period.  At eight of these projects McLean erected a cairn to which was attached cast bronze plates on which were the words of the poem “The Sons of Martha” by Rudyard Kipling.  This is a eulogy for the working man and McLean erected these cairns as a tribute to his workers and, in particular, those who died on these projects. 

McLean met Kipling a number of times in Canada, the first being in 1907, likely in Montreal at McGill University.  Kipling had an enthusiastic following of engineers after publishing this poem whose biblical references speak of the grave societal responsibilities of the engineer.

Mclean had sets of bronze plates cast with the words of Kiplings poem, four plates for each cairn. Most were constructed of local stone but a few were cast in concrete.  McLean’s name does not appear anywhere.  The plate on the front was engraved with the words “In loving memory of those who worked and died here”, followed by the first two verses of the Kipling poem.  The remainder of the poem was divided among three smaller plates, one attached to each of the other three sides of the cairn.  The locations and details of the eight cairns in Canada are well documented in Teresa Charland’s book [1] and I will just give a summary here. The dates shown in the headings are the dates the cairns were erected.

Grand Falls Hydroelectric Project, New Brunswick (1929)
This was opened on 1 October, 1928. The cairn here is a concrete one.

Sherritt Junction, Cranberry Portage, Manitoba (1929)
The Canadian National line to Flin Flon Manitoba was officially opened by the premier of the province, John Bracken, on September 22, 1928. The stone cairn was erected near Cranberry Portage.  This is sometimes erroneously referred to as Flin Flon.

Guysboro Railway, Nova Scotia (1929)
The Dominion Construction Company had the contract for the construction of the Canadian National Guysboro branch from Sunny Brae to Guysboro in Nova Scotia.  Construction started in November 1929 but the contract was cancelled in August 1930 after some 22 miles had been completed.  The cairn was erected at Newtown, Pictou County overlooking the highway from Route 7 via Garden of Eden and Sunny Brae to New Glasgow (The Blue Mountain Road) [2]

Quebec City Wolfe’s Cove Tunnel (1931)
The first train went through the Wolfe’s Tunnel in Quebec City on May 26, 1931.  This was a stone cairn.

Moosonee, Ontario (1932)
The Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway, later Ontario  Northland, was built in sections.  Dominion Construction was responsible for the final section from Fraserdale to Coral Rapids to the Moose River to Moosonee. The last spike ceremony took place on July 15, 1932.  The Moosonee cairn is a concrete one.

Abitibi Canyon Generating Station, Ontario (1932)
This project, some 70 miles north of Cochrane, was beset with political problems.  Work started in 1930 but the station did not come into operation until 1935. The cairn here is a concrete one.

Harry McLean had two large quarries in Ontario which were used to produce stone, mainly for ballast, on his many track widening and rehabilitations projects. 

Deeks Quarry (1925)
Deeks is located a few miles east of Merrickville on the Canadian Pacific Winchester subdivision.  This also served as a storage and repair shop for the large amount of equipment used on the many projects.  A large number of locomotives and cars were here at one time or another and I have documented this in an article in the January 2009 Branchline. [3] The last year of operation of the quarry was 1935. The stone cairn has been vandalized.

Hawk Lake (1946)
Hawk Lake, near Kenora, was on the Canadian Pacific and the quarry here was opened up in 1928 and the first full season was 1929.

The above account for eight cairns.  There is a ninth

Washburn North Dakota (1952) To honor his parents in North Dakota, McLean commissioned the Pioneer Family statue by Avard Fairbanks that today stands on the capitol grounds. It was supposed to go to Washburn, seat of the county named after his father.  Somehow it was sidetracked to Bismarck. So McLean put one of his Sons of Martha monuments in Washburn. 

However, there is a tenth Sons of Martha cairn which was erected at Churchill, Manitoba, in 1931, a few years after the Hudson Bay Railway was opened in 1929. It is a stone cairn, similar to many of the others and the bronze plates would appear to have been cast from the same moulds.  The stone must have been brought into Churchill from quite some way away.  The University of Manitoba digital archives notes that the cairn in Churchill, was erected jointly by the Dominion Engineering Co. and the C.N.R.  The McLean Dominion Construction Company was not involved in the construction of the line and the origins of the cairn remain a mystery.

The tenth Sons of Martha cairn at Churchill, Manitoba.
Photo taken by Dennis Peters on September 28, 2011

The tenth Sons of Martha cairn at Churchill, Manitoba.
Photo taken by Dennis Peters on September 28, 2011

The Sons of Martha

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains ``Be ye removèd.'' They say to the lesser floods ``Be dry.''
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd---they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit---then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger Death at their gloves' end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden---under the earthline their altars are---
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city's drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's ways may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd---they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet---they hear the Word---they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and---the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!

[1] Throughout this article I have used “Building an Empire “Big Pants” Harry F. Mclean and His Sons of Martha” by Teresa Charland, Riparian House 2007.
The Guysborough Railway 1897 – 1939 by Bruce MacDonald April 1973.

Bytown Railway Society Branchline - April 2015  also Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders The Interchange April 2015

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