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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ice harvesting for CPR passenger trains enjoyed banner year in 1958 with over 15, 000 tons garnered

Harvesting ice in the winter months was at one time a major project for the Canadian Pacific Railway at Chapleau, and in 1958, it was considered a banner year as over 15,000 tons were garnered from the ice fields.
In an interview with Margaret Costello, Assistant Superintendent Jim Haddow. roadmaster Sidney Baker and ice harvesting foreman Eldon Eveline noted it was "clear blue ice 40 inches thick".
For about seven weeks during the coldest part of a Chapleau winter, heavily laden sleighs could be seen hauling ice from the river near the old pumphouse to the ice houses.
I never caught a ride on the back of the sleighs but would watch them go by the home of my grandparents Harry and Lil (Mulligan) Morris on Elgin Street when visiting them. As I lived on the "other side of town" this was something enjoyed more by my friends who lived "over the bridge".  
In her story Maggie pointed out that Chapleau was the only point on the CPR that had its employees do ice harvesting. Others contracted it out.
Mr. Eveline pointed out that he had about 49 workers  -- six were loaders, 20 were on lake operations, and 20 were at the ice houses, plus cooks and watchmen.

Ed Swanson standin and unknown

In early December when the ice was about three inches thick, clearing the ice field was started using bulldozers and other equipment. At 12 inches thickness trucks and sideplows moved in. The first cut was made in January when the ice was 16 inches thick.
Blocks of ice were taken from the river by jackladder one at a time and moved on to the waiting sleighs for their journey to the ice house.
"There the hefty ice cubes are taken off the sleigh by an elevator and slid down a cute to the bins By the time the ice reached a thickness of 40 inches the blocks weighed 500 pounds each and a sleigh .load weighed 10 tons."
Maggie's story also revealed that about 8,000 tons were stored in the two Chapleau ice houses: 7.000 tons were shipped to White River in wooden box cars, and 420 tons to Schreiber.
The ice was used to air condition cars on passenger trains cool liquids as well as on meat cars.
The story also made the point that the project provided employment for about 50 workers during a time when employment was not so plentiful in Chapleau.
loading ice on passenger car
Dr. Bill Pellow worked at the ice houses during the winter months on weekends. He described what it was like.
"Saturday mornings freezing to death working on the ice gangs for the CPR made a body wonder about an inside job where you could "look out" and always be warm. It was a perpetual dream and the thought crossed my mind many a Saturday. Two pairs of pants, sometimes overalls three sweaters, Stanfield long underwear was standard apparel, flight boots and heavy woollen inserts over leather mitts, a beaver hat with lugs, ( my head at least was always sweating) and scarves just would not keep you warm.
"You couldn't put on more clothes even if you had them, because you had to navigate and work and there was a limit on wearing too much bulky clothing and being practical. Work was the salvation. So you constantly kept moving, and kicking your toes against something to remind you that your feet were down there and they were not turning to ice although it felt like that and maybe your feet could fall off if you didn't keep the circulation moving."
Bill became a dentist after working on the CPR running trades.
My good friend Louis Fortin. who worked on ice gangs in the 1950s while still attending high school provided this description of his work:
"Our first job was to literally chop, saw, chisel the large blocks from the ice house and load the large steel carts in preparation for train arrival. The original blocks were approximately 3 feet high by 2 feet. We sawed the blocks in half and with the use of steel chutes sent the ice down to the platform level where it was loaded in the steel carts. At train time we met the train, opened the bunkers on the side of the passenger cars into which we loaded these blocks of ice each weighing approx. 100 lbs. This function was performed manually. We had to literally bend down below the bunker doors and slide the ice into the bunker. It goes without saying that the ice was necessary for air conditioning purposes."
From an article I was able to find by an H.B. Bowen, chief of motive power and rolling stock of the CPR, the railroad was using ice on some trains by 1936. By the 1970s it was part of history. Thanks Bill and Louis. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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