Once Upon a Prairie Town 24”x36” Acrylic on Canvas, 2012 Private Collection
The sun is shining on the small town of Big Valley, Alberta but the darkening clouds and the rain seen on the distant horizon indicate that soon the weather will be changing. It’s 1942 and Canadian National Railway 4-6-2 “Pacific” #5617 eases train #26 for a scheduled 25 minute station stop at Big Valley. Operating three days a week (Tues, Thurs, and Sat.) #26 leaves Edmonton at 8:30 in the morning and arrives in Calgary at 7:30 in the evening. Since there was no food service provided onboard the train, passengers could leave the train and get some lunch at the station.
Built in 1912 by CNR predecessor Canadian Northern, the station looks like new dressed in recently applied stucco siding. WWII is causing many shortages. The owners of the Chevrolets and the Oldsmobile parked at the station will not be able to buy a new car until the war has ended. Some lucky person will be getting that new tire on the baggage cart at a time when there is a great shortage of rubber. Railroad stations were the center of commerce, connecting cities and towns to the outside world at a time when road standards were not conducive to long distance travel and the airline industry was in its infancy. The train station was also a place where people would gather just to talk and to see who or what arrived or left town on the train.
Like many youngsters the boy on the Schwinn bicycle has come to watch the trains coming and going and perhaps dream about becoming an engineer who runs one of the smoking, chuffing, hissing giants. It is an era long gone, the likes of which we will not see again.