Saturday, January 29, 2011

Toothpick and a Silver Bowl : Letter 1, May 27, 1911

Margaret Nicholson, Edith and Flora and Neighbour. Home alone.


North Bay,

May 27, 1911

Dear Margaret,

You will see by heading of this letter where I am today. This is a town of about 8 thousand situated at the end of Lake Tamiskaming. Flora can look it up for you on the map in the secretary.

I left Ottawa at 12 50 PM last night. Arrived here this morning at 9 am. They gave me a ticket over the CPR for here, also a berth ticket which I enjoyed very much. The porter made me a nice bed in one of the lower berths. I got up this morning at 7 o'clock.

Went into the diner and had breakfast which comprised 3 eggs, one baked potato, 3 rolls, and a glass of milk. And a toothpick served on a silver tray for my entree where I washed my fingers in a silver bowl.

All at the expense of the Transcontinental Ry. On arriving here I went and saw the transport engineer and he sends me to Cochrane where the Tamiskamming and the Northern Ontario intersects--with the orders for my destination about 50 miles east of Cochran on Division D. But I will be on the rails and I will be pleased not to have to walk. I leave here tomorrow at 5:20 am.

Will stop at Cobalt for three hours then proceed to Cochrane.

I am supposed to get to Cochrane at eight tomorrow morning. Now the distance from Ottawa to here is 123 miles and from here to Cochrane is 252 miles, from Montreal to Ottawa is about 120 miles with 76 from Montreal. Will give you some idea of how far I am from home. When I arrive at destination I will try and give you a better idea of where I am. I can cover the distance quicker then when I was in La Tuque, only it will be more expensive to go home when I do.

I only saw Parent for a few minutes, he had arrived from Chicago and was busy in his office. He said he thought I would be suited with my change. Will tell later. Hope you had a pleasant time in Montreal with Marion. And will try and write you tomorrow from Cochrane and send you my address. I am taking things cool and intend to do so, do not worry about me. So far they are treating me fine and the Commission is paying the bill as I go so I am not worrying about it in the least.

I cannot think of any news so I will close for this time. You will have quite a time to read this letter as I am writing in a hurry along with being a poor writer.

Love to Edith and Flora also to yourself.

Your affectionate husband, Norman. ...

In May 1911, Norman Nicholson, 60, former hemlock bark salesman and leading citizen of Richmond, Quebec, leaves for work as a concrete inspector for the Canadian Transcontinental Railroad at end-of-steel near Cochrane, Ontario. This is Norman's second stint working on the building of this railway line.

In May of 1910 he had been fired from his first assignment near La Tuque, Quebec, for going absent without leave.

At that time he had been overcome with anxiety for his family. His eldest daughter, Edith, has lost her 'great love' in an infamous Cornwall, Ontario hotel fire and his only son, Herbert, had been caught with his hand in the till at the Eastern Townships bank where he worked as a clerk.

According to records he kept, Norman started working in the Quebec bush as an inspector of railway ties on September 13th, 1907.

Back in June 1907, with his once thriving bank account bottomed out, Norman had applied for work with the CTR, a desperation move, as railroad work, even for a man in his prime, was known to be difficult and dangerous.

Despite having area Liberal M.P. E.W. Tobin as a pro-active patron, Norman was informed by a letter in July that the CTR had its full complement of inspectors.

Then, on August 19th, came the infamous bridge disaster that made headlines around the world. According to Technical World Magazine, the bridge was "one of the great engineering undertakings of the century" ..."a topic of universal discussion." Close to 100 men perished, most of them employees of the US contractor and Mohawk labourers from Caugnawaga, south of Montreal. (Kanewake). The bridge was a component of the Canadian Transcontinental Railway. Suddenly,it seems, there was a need for inspectors at 'end of steel'.

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