Diane Simpson, with parents Murray and Florence Williams, at the CNR Station in Mawer, Saskatchewan.
Diane Simpson has volunteered at Langley Heritage Society’s CNR Station in Fort Langley for many years, and enthusiastically shares her knowledge and love of life beside the rails. This station holds a special place in her heart because her father Murray Williams and mother Florence were the last station agents to reside in the CNR Station’s living quarters (1959 – 1962). She’s often asked by visitors what the agents did, and because Diane grew up in stations like this, she speaks with firsthand knowledge.
“The obvious tasks of the agent are, of course selling tickets, and helping people plan their trips. Then receiving, recording, billing and loading the freight train, and ordering freight cars for mills and elevators. Sending telegrams around the world was also part of a day, informing friends and family of births, deaths, marriages and family news. My father usually delivered these around the village at noon or after work, but occasionally my brother Brian or I was asked to deliver one on our bicycle. The relaying and receiving of train orders via telegraph from the Division Dispatcher was of prime importance for an Agent on the main line. Several stations we lived in were on the main line — extremely important during the war for the movement of troops and supplies.
Locally, there was the responsibility for seeing that the freight and groceries that arrived daily were stowed on the dray wagon, originally pulled by a team, and then a tractor. They were delivered to all the businesses in the village by the drayman, and the freight charges were collected monthly. A cash report was made by the Agent, balanced and put into a Kraft envelope with a string and flap, then sealed with a stick of hard sealing wax. A match lit to melt the hard wax on the flap, and the report was then sealed with the station seal to go in the mail coach, not to be broken until it arrived at the Divisional Point. Money from the town bank was also sent on the secured mail coach. There was never a robbery from a CNR mail coach that I am aware of in those years. No Billy Miner-type scallywags in Saskatchewan!
Chores in a station without electricity, plumbing, furnace or any conveniences were allotted to everyone, but Mom and Dad did the most. Taking out the slop pail from under the sink and the honey wagon from upstairs were likely the most odious (in every sense of the word). Dad looked after all those chores while we were young, as well as filling the coal oil lamps; Mom and I cleaned glass chimneys while he lit the mantles on the gas lamp. My brother chopped kindling and shoveled coal for the stoves and did yard chores, and I pumped drinking water, washed dishes, peeled vegetables and attended to the Saturday cleaning. Getting water for washing clothes and bathing was a delicate matter at the last station we lived in. Mom made a good bread pudding for the drayman once a week, and he brought us a couple of barrels of soft water from the creamery. Mom also, not happily, often swept the freight shed clean and attended to the annual cleaning of the outdoor convenience, as well as looking after us and our home. Sunday afternoons my brother and I searched along the tracks for the hoops that Dad used to hold up train orders to the engineer on the train. Everyone had their jobs to do around the station. It was the hub of activity in a small village.”
Diane Simpson and her brother Brian on the platform at Mawer, Saskatchewan