Historic St. Marys by Mary Smith
Reg Near, a long-time friend of the St. Marys Museum, recently donated this photograph, taken about a century ago. Reg, who has been collecting postcards and pictures of St. Marys for decades, often acquires bundles of unidentified photographs from friends and acquaintances, sometimes with little accompanying information. This photograph is an example, arriving at the Museum as a small snapshot print, curling with age. Scanned and enlarged, it reveals some very interesting content.
A passenger car is, for the moment, at a standstill beside the platform, probably at the St. Marys Station. In clear focus is the name, Grand Trunk, printed like a banner above the car windows. The figures on the platform are rather blurry as they walk along the platform or move closer to the passengers at the open windows. The clothing style — the length of the skirts, the hats, the shoes — suggests a period towards the end of World War I. In fact, there are two men wearing peaked soldiers’ caps at the windows half way down the car.
An older lady at the left of the photograph is in contrast to the other women and to the young girls with their broad-brimmed hats and hair ribbons. She is wearing a voluminous, full-length dress of dark material and on her head is a small bonnet with ties under her chin. This dignified person is not influenced by early 20th century fashion trends.
At that time, the Grand Trunk Railway System enthusiastically encouraged train travel. In early 1920, an advertisement in the St. Marys Journal promoted service on the main lines — Montreal, Toronto, Chicago and Detroit. Features included “unexcelled dining car service, sleeping cars on night trains and parlour cars on principal day trains.”
The trains through St. Marys were frequent. Five daily trains each way stopped at the Junction Station, travelling between Toronto and Port Huron. There were four daily trains each way at the Town Station between Toronto and London. In London, connections could be made to Detroit. From these two Michigan cities, Port Huron and Detroit, it was possible to travel across the entire United States.
Of course, a century ago, people had few alternatives to train travel. But in current times, as roadways become increasingly congested and as the costs of fueling and maintaining personal vehicles rise, we too need regular and timely railway service as a travel option.