I came to Ottawa in 1968 and, with a job downtown, I quickly discovered the lunchtime sessions at Hobbyland. In effect, a group of railway modelers would take over Bill Williams’ model store at lunch time. They were lead by Bob Craig and included:
Dave Knowles, Ken Chivers, Al Craig, Dave Thomas, Stan Jones, Michel Boucher, Earl Roberts, Bruce Ballantyne, Mike Iveson and many others.
Bill Williams was also drawn into these sessions, because he owned the store, while Dunc du Fresne would occasionally drop by to confuse everybody with his twelve inches to the foot practical know how.
Just imagine it, here’s Bill Williams trying to run a business, and at the most profitable time of the day, when they let the Civil Servants out to spend money, his place is taken over by a bunch of rabid railway modelers, quarrelling and arguing amongst themselves.
Among this group was a quiet, impeccably dressed man who often had a cravat. He had thick horn rimmed glasses, stood erect, had a jaunty walk and normally wore a big grin. This was Ken. A quiet man, he would listen to the often noisy and frequently esoteric or, picayune discussion and then make a few erudite comments. This was Ken’s style. He would listen quietly and then focus the discussion with a well directed grenade.
From these, for want of a better word, sessions, (I don’t ever remember blood being spilt but I wouldn’t have been surprised) Ken, Bob and the rest of this group developed a philosophy of the concept of a model railway, its construction and its operation, and this has stood the test of time. It is as valid today as it was all those years ago. Soon after moving into Regina Avenue, Ken commenced construction of the St. Francis Valley Railway. Because of lack of space he chose N scale, very small and finicky to construct. Because he was a perfectionist he hand-laid all the track. It is a testament to his work that at the last session we ran, earlier this month, the SFV ran faultlessly without a problem. Ken’s approach was “Perfection - Do it right”.
Ken attended the meetings of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders (OVAR) and the Bytown Railway Society. He was president of OVAR for two years 1987-8 and 1988-9 and in 1995 he was awarded the McEwen car (#28) for services to railway modelers in Ottawa.
Railfair at Algonquin College has become a regular railfan event in Ottawa. Ken was on the first two committees in 1978 and 1979 and again from 1993 to 1995 serving as Chairman in 1995. He wrote the Railfair Planning Guide, a document that is still used today to help the organizing committee.
Dave Venables tells the story about how Ken got into computers. Ken built his own computer - a Heathkit - from scratch. However, building a computer didn't give you mastery over it and there were times that Ken felt the computer was out to get him. Quite often on a Sunday afternoon, Dave’s phone would ring. It was Ken.
“Dave I've got a problem. It used to do such and such and now it does something else.” Dave’s first question was usually – “What did you change?”
The first response was usually “I didn't do anything.”
The second question was usually - What did you change?
The second response was usually, “Oh I just changed such and such - that shouldn't do anything should it?”
The response to that was usually – “You realise that 90% of computer problems occur between the seat and the keyboard.”
“Yes”, was usually the reply and the diagnosis and resolution would then begin. It took a while, but later the calls started out:
“Dave I've got a problem with such and such after I changed such and such, can you help me find out what I did wrong.”
Diagnosis and resolution then began a little earlier!
Ken also debugged and enhanced a freeware program written in Basic that he used to create the operating instructions for each session of the SFV. This software is also used today by several other layout operators in the Ottawa area.
But Ken didn’t confine himself to model railways. When Bob Craig died, he left an enormous collection of railway books and photographs and it was largely through Ken’s efforts that we now have the C. Robert Craig Memorial Library. Located in the City of Ottawa Archives, this is likely the largest single collection of railway books in North America. Ken became the first President, guided it through a rocky beginning and even wrote the constitution.. All of this collection, including the many thousands of slides and photographs, has been catalogued – something that cannot be said of very many collections, certainly not those in Ottawa. But Ken ensured that the library would operate well after he left through writing a series of procedure manuals which set out precisely how things should be done. These are proving invaluable.
In 1997, I approached Ken and Dave Knowles about setting up a forum for those interested in studying the history of the railways of this area. Ken had some good ideas and wrote the terms of reference which we use in the Ottawa Railway History Circle. We meet every two weeks in a down town hotel and Ken was a regular, in fact he was so well known that Patty, our regular server, would have a glass of Rickard’s Red at Ken’s place almost before he had sat down. Ken would offer helpful advice to researchers and was especially keen on bringing forward the newer, more inexperienced members.
Notice that there’s a pattern here. With all the significant developments in the area which we railfans now take for granted – OVAR, Railfair, Craig Memorial Library, Ottawa Railway History Circle – Ken has played an important part and left a significant legacy.
Ken was great company to go railfanning with whether the objective was 12 inch to the foot or miniature. You always knew you would stay somewhere better than a "no-tell" motel and he loved good food so you knew that you would go somewhere enjoyable and relaxing to reflect on the days visits. While he loved good food, he was not against introducing you to such delicacies as Tim Horton's Chili. However, this love of food sometimes got the better of him. I went with him to Portland, Maine just over a year ago where we enjoyed lobster – at a place with bibs and plastic table cloths. Just after that, Ken went with Paul Therien by rail to Halifax. All the way down Ken was musing about the wonderful lobster he was going to have and making disparaging remarks about meat eaters (Paul does not like shell fish). In Halifax, they found a good restaurant, sat down and looked at the menu. The cost of the lobster was astronomical but Ken had committed himself and was duty-bound to order lobster while Paul ordered the more reasonably priced steak. At the next few St. Francis Valley sessions there were a few pointed remarks about lobster lovers having deep pockets.
The original part of St. Francis Valley Railway ran between Richmond and Drummondville and the Orford Mountain run was a short switching move. Regular operation commenced in 1981 with Walter Cholowski and Dave Venables being the operators. As federal government employees, they used to joke that it was easy to know when it was SFV because Wednesday's were the best day of the week. One Wednesday you got paid, the other you got to operate the SFV, what could be better than that?
In its original form, the SFV was the subject of a TV program that was hosted, I believe, by Cory O’Kelly.
The extensions to North Troy, Sherbrooke and Sorel were added in the 90's at which time the crew size grew to six operators and a dispatcher. I started at the SFV around three years ago and it was a little daunting working alongside a 25 year veteran (Dave Venables) as well as Barry Innes and Tony Pearce who have been regular members for the last 10-15 years while Paul Therien, John Manson and Normand Rajotte were seasoned veterans. The sessions were very serious and I came away from them intellectually challenged and emotionally drained. Normand Rajotte would lighten the tenor of the evening a little with a couple of comments such as:
“Gee, Its getting dry in here” or “What’s up Ken? Can’t open your fridge door?”
This was an indication that a beer was in order – although it was only recently that Rule G had been honoured in the breach on the SFV.
After the end of each session we would go upstairs and Ken would serve us tea or coffee while Harriet would bring around some of her delicious home made cookies, tarts or other snacks. It amazed me that he was thanking us for coming yet we should have been thanking him for giving us the privilege of participating in the operation of this incredible railway.
Dave Venables found this poem on the web. With a couple of changes, it seems to fit Ken's disposition..
I Have A Model Railway
Some people think I'm off the rails to stare until my vision fails
at tiny parts, minute details
and build a model railway.
There's metal wheels and plastic gears and decals coming out my ears
I'm sure it will take many years
to build a model railway.
I really don't know where to start this, modelling's a complex art
and things can really fall apart
on a dodgy model railway.
If I could find some helpful chaps upon the internet, perhaps
there wouldn't need to be a lapse in
the building of my railway.
Then I discovered O.V.A.R and found indeed that there you are
more experienced than I by far
on all things model railway.
Now track is laid and wiring done and electricity to make it run
and so I can have lots of fun
upon my model railway.
And then there's all the scenery the scattered grass and wire tree
the walls all painted carefully
a proper model railway.
And so for this my thanks are due to each and every one of you
your help and advice got me through
I have a model railway!
So Harriet, we would all like to thank you for sharing your husband of 51 years with a group of like minded railway fanatics. It couldn’t have been easy for you at times what with your husband suddenly going off with the guys or a group of modelers descending on your home. You have put up with us patiently and graciously.
Ken was a very private person. He was extremely reliable and incredibly generous with his time and advice which was invariably centred on a broad and deep base of knowledge. He was the kind of person you were proud to have as a friend and he will be sorely missed. Ken was a wonderful mentor and we would all do well to emulate his philosophy.
“Walk quietly, think deeply and carry a grenade!”
28 July 2006
I'm Ken's nephew, Mark - and I am honoured, today, to give a eulogy on behalf of the Healy family. They say a child should choose his parents wisely. Well, a child should also choose his aunts and uncles wisely, and I lucked out.
When I was a kid, there were a lot of things I looked forward to... but not a lot of things I really looked forward to. Halloween. Christmas. The last day of school. And visits to my uncle Ken and Aunt Harriet's place in Ottawa. My aunt and uncle were always very kind to me, and took an interest in what I was doing, and I liked that. But mostly, I looked forward to playing trains. See, I knew that if I was patient (for about an hour or two after we arrived), uncle Ken would say to me: "Well Mark, do you want to play trains?" And down we'd go to the basement. They had, and probably still have, one of those little bar fridges. We didn't have bar fridges in the Eastern Townships, so I always thought that was pretty neat. I'd get a ginger ale from it, trying to be as grown up as possible for Ken. And then we'd play trains, for what seemed like hours. Now, left to my own devices, I of course would have just picked the longest train and just driven it as fast as possible around the track, destined to eventually derail the thing. But Ken was good - he would teach me about how the whole train process worked, pull out a routing, show me how to couple and decouple - and suggested that we might not want to crash one train into another. The whole process was great fun, but calm and tempered. I learned some very good lessons from Ken those days - about control and discipline.
Over the past two days, and as an adult, I've come to see that Ken was not just playing trains - he was part of a very active and caring community of railroaders here in Ottawa. A group as interested in preserving history as in the modeling. And a group as interested in people as in the trains. My family has been just overwhelmed by the genuineness and support your community has shown us and Harriet in particular. Everything from kind inquires to trips to the grocery store, and we know this will continue - thank you.
You know, Ken was interested in more than just trains. He was also a car buff- his first new car had a full red leather interior and a burled walnut dash, which my dad tells me he paid $1800 for. Ken loved classical music - as a teenager, he traveled into Montreal from Danville to take in concerts. Not the easiest trip in those days. He shared this love of music with Harriet and they frequently attended performances at the NAC.
Ken was also an avid family historian. Not many families can trace their descendants end-to-end, starting in 1636. For us, this is only the case because of the hard work Ken and Harriet have devoted to this passion. The work represents a body of research carried out over a 40 year period. Trips to Boston and London, England were not uncommon. I was speaking with Susan last night and she told me that Ken and Harriet were just as vigilant in tracking down Heath records as they were Healy records. My mom tells me Ken made special arrangements with her - that it was very important to him - to preserve this work. He built a special database for all the information, and she'll be taking over the Healy side. This is fantastic as I plan to add to the family line and it is very comforting to know that history is secure and will be added to.
They say still waters run deep. When I think of Ken, I think of, above all else, dignity. He was a dignified man.
My dad tells me that Ken would give you anything you wanted - but if you wanted something from him, you had to ask for it. You could hint until the cows came home, but he would not be presumptuous.
Charlotte and I did ask on one occasion - asked Ken to read at our wedding. We did so because of the tremendous respect we had for Ken and Harriet as a couple - a true, lasting love - the kind of relationship we hope to emulate. Ken did read for us - Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke - with great respect. He and Harriet have always been very good their families.
Ken enjoyed his work as an accountant, and practiced it in a highly organized and rigorous way. If you asked him a question about taxes in 1974, he would go to his filing cabinet, pull the file, and give you the answer. He could not be stumped. Ken half-joked with Bob and Don that he wanted to live long enough to get his affairs in order. Ken was not the kind of man who's affairs were ever out of order.
Always reserved, always humble and always self-deprecating. Dignified. I know Ken would think all of this a great fuss on his behalf, but would also be proud to know that so many have come to pay their respects and to celebrate his life today. Thank you all for coming.
28 July 2006
For Uncle Ken
My name is Melanie Reed, and Ken was my uncle. When Aunt Harriet asked me to be a part of this service, I thought a great deal about what I could say. Uncle Ken has always been a part of my life, so there are many memories, but I do remember one specific incident. When we were children, my sister Susan and I often went to stay with our aunts and uncles, always with the admonishment ‘to be good girls’ for Aunt Elsie or ‘to behave ourselves’ for Aunt Mary. However, instructions prior to visits to Aunt Harriet and Uncle Ken’s were different, and went something like this. ‘Whatever else you do, don’t get sick in Uncle Ken’s car.’ It was then that I realized that Uncle Ken’s relationship to his car was different from my father’s. To my father, a car was transportation, but to Uncle Ken, it was pure pleasure. As I grew up, I realized that everything in Uncle Ken’s life gave him pleasure - his marriage to Aunt Harriet, of course, and his beloved trains, good music, and his cars. He took pleasure in a good ploughman’s lunch, a good Scotch, and the discovery of a good beer. In recent years, Harriet began to like beer as well, and that gave him pleasure, too. I don’t know if surrounding himself with these pleasures happened by chance or design; perhaps it doesn’t matter.
when my sister and her young son Adam were having dinner with Ken and
Adam reached over, patted Uncle Ken’s arm,
I think, perhaps, that is how I, too, will remember Uncle Ken’s life.
“You enjoyed it all, didn’t you, my old friend.”