Larry Pfaff, local historian and long-time friend of the St. Marys Museum, recently purchased two early-20th century photographs from a collector in Toronto, both relating to the railway and to St. Marys. Last week’s column described one of these images: the small station on the Grand Trunk Railway at the Switch near Elizabeth Street. Featured this week is the second photograph, taken by Webster & Co., a well-known local studio, and dated on the back: May 23, 1908.
It shows CPR Locomotive 391, stationary on a section of track. Posing beside it, in it, and even on top of it are some official-looking gentlemen in suits, the railway crew and miscellaneous men and boys. Some of the youngest boys are barefoot. This last group has clearly been drawn by the excitement of a special occasion as well as a fascination with big machines.
There are some easy clues to the location. Since it is a CPR engine, it is somewhere on the track that used to run beside the Thames River, the path of the Riverview Walkway today. Records tell us that rail line opened in 1908 as a spur of the CPR from Zorra Station to St. Marys. The first locomotive arrived in May of that year and passenger service began July 1. A man with a horse and wagon is watching from a bridge in the background on the left. Its stone piers and iron superstructure identify it as the old Park Street Bridge — still quite a new bridge at that time.
Gord Strathdee, a railway expert, sees more clues, noting that the ballast under the tracks is clean and free of debris — in other words, still new. He adds, “Beneath the cab window we can clearly see C.P.R. 391. That same number is emblazoned on the tender (in period-consistent typeface) and also on the round brass plate on the front of the smokebox (beneath the headlight).” Through his network, Gord has learned that this locomotive was built in Montreal in 1891 and saw three decades of service before it was scrapped in 1922. Gord points out that the locomotive has a head of steam and suggests: “Those folks perched on the engine would have been HOT!”
For more information, look for the Historic St. Marys interpretive plaque on the Riverview Walkway at approximately the same spot this photograph was taken in 1908.