Take The Last Train to McAdam
As we explored the St. Stephen-St. Andrews-Calais area last week, we took the advice of anyone who offered it. If someone said we should go see something, we went. That included my brother’s suggestion that we head up to McAdam and see the old train station.
Trains are part of my family’s history. My Dad, Mom and brother worked together in a company Dad founded that salvaged decommissioned railroad tracks and trestles and sold off the rail and ties. This followed Dad’s eighteen years with CN. They became heroes for hiring local labour and villains for removing the tracks, which wasn’t their decision of course. At different times, sometimes for years at a time, they lived in other provinces including New Brunswick.
The McAdam station was built in 1900 and used by CP (and later Via Rail) until the mid-1990s. The class system was alive and well. Wealthy guests ate in a formal dining room while labourers used the massive Woolworth-style lunch counter. Derek and I were fortunate to meet a tour guide in training who – although it’s not yet tour season – offered to take us through the building to practice her patter.
A massive room is now used for wedding receptions. They’re trying to raise $13-million to renovate the second-floor hotel rooms that are literally falling apart. The third floor housed the “girls” who worked at the station under the iron fist of one Miss Quinn. Want to get married? You’re fired! Meet up with a rail yard worker for a date? You’re fired! Miss Quinn had nothing in her life except her job and she took it very seriously.
The story goes that one night the girls wanted to attend a local dance. Miss Quinn’s response was to point to mountains of dirty dishes and smirk, “When the dishes are done, you can go”. With their supervisor tucked in for the night, the girls took all of the dirty dishes and tossed them in the river on the other side of the tracks. They pulled out clean replacements, stacked them, and left for the dance. They almost got away with it.
A few days later, a railway man who cooled off in the river came up bleeding with cuts from broken dinnerware. Miss Quinn was not amused. When the board that now oversees the station heard the story, they sent in a diver to confirm it. Busted pieces of plates, cups and bowls now sit in a display cabinet as a testament to the power of adolescent hormones.
The girls were so determined to do what teen girls do, meet boys, that they regularly wriggled out of a narrow duct in their dorm to escape the building at night. They slept eighteen to a room. Eighteen girls and one bathroom. *shudder*
No one knows what happened to Miss Quinn. She never married and she apparently never developed a sense of warmth or humour. Pity.
The station hosts pie sales through the summer. Their claim to fame is that they cut the pies in five slices instead of six. Also, that the women in their nineties who make the pies refuse to part with the recipes so once they’re gone, they’re gone. There are lineups every weekend.
We also saw a 100+-year-old moose.
This moose was hit by a train near the station in 1905. Thanks to a skilled taxidermist, he has retained his youthful glow.
There’s just something about a train station that draws me in. Maybe it’s Dad, maybe it’s family history. It might also be that these buildings tell us so much about how people lived and moved. The 1890 station in St. Stephen is now a wonderful restaurant and craft brewery called Five Kings. These buildings were made to last and appeal to those who value our history, like me.