THIS CANADA

A railway town refuses to die

David Folster December 20 1982
THIS CANADA

A railway town refuses to die

David Folster December 20 1982

A railway town refuses to die

THIS CANADA

David Folster

Eighty - three - year - old Walter Sangster remembers the year he bought a pair of geese and sowed wild rice in the pond near the railway station at McAdam, N.B. It was 1956, and that year marked the pond’s debut as a bird sanctuary. When the geese returned in subsequent springs, “they would bring their friends with them,” Sangster explains. Eventually, as many as 60 geese summered at the pond, which became nearly as big a local attraction as the splendid old station itself. But suddenly, in 1980, the numbers of wildfowl declined. Sangster believes that the birds fell victim to poisonous pesticides sprayed on agricultural crops along their migratory route through the United States. Last summer only three geese came back to Sangster’s golden pond.

The fortunes of McAdam have paralleled those of the pond and its geese. Once a Canadian Pacific Railway boomtown, the village, 80 km southwest of Fredericton, near the Maine border, has suffered the atrophy that has overtaken many similar communities whose existence was staked on a single major employer. Thirty-five years ago there were 630 railway employees in McAdam, now there are only 38. The penultimate blow to the community was delivered 19 months ago when the Georgia-Pacific plywood mill closed, throwing 250 peo-

ple out of work. The mill’s closing was followed last year by Via Rail’s cancellation of the last two passenger trains through the village, marking the end of nearly 100 years of railway service on the “Short Line” between the Maritimes and Montreal. In September a local plant that manufactured cabs for forklifts and front-end loaders laid off

14 workers. Not surprisingly, the words of an old railway song can be heard again in McAdam:

I hope in hell/their souls may dwell/who first invented McAdam junction.

Still, neither self-pity nor self-deprecation have infected McAdam’s 1,700 residents. Businessmen on Saunders Road, the town’s main street, remain optimistic. One merchant, Vaughan McCluskey, the ^ owner of McAdam Drugs, S has opened a card and D crafts outlet, which he pro12 nounces “a worthwhile proj2 ect—it’s visible.” Village i administrator Christopher £ Nason enthusiastically lists

1 a number of job-creating g public works projects re-

2 cently undertaken: new

£ sidewalks, upgraded playgrounds and the renovation

and expansion (to four times

its original size) of the village hall.

Funds for the municipal projects have come from both the federal and provincial governments, which consider McAdam a case study of how government can marshal aid for a recessionstruck community on a scale unimagined by the village’s railway workers, who suffered through another hard time during the Great Depression. At the City Camp club, where some of the retired railwaymen congregate, William Griffiths, 74, recalls that the CPR’s highest wage earner in 1933-1934 could work only 10 days a month, for a total of $1,050 in yearly earnings; and then “there was no unemployment insurance or pensions,” he adds. But, when the Georgia-Pacific mill shut down on April Fool’s Day, 1981, federal and provincial governments set up a $300,000 fund that created 30 jobs for 30 weeks.

More help followed, including McAdam’s designation as a community eligible for funds from the federal department of industry’s $350-million Industrial Labor Adjustment Program. This year the two levels of government have, so far, pumped more than $1 million into McAdam. As one measure of the impact, the village’s own employment roster, normally numbering six workers, swelled to a summer high of 62. Moreover, with additional grants being sought, studies being commissioned, renovations in progress on the high school and a municipal beautification

plan in the works, it almost seems as though the village will eventually be transformed into a well-groomed model community—if its economic hard times endure.

As welcome as the government help has been, few McAdam residents really believe that temporary make-work projects can sustain the village forever. “Down deep, I’m just hoping something will come into this town,” says Richard Montgomery, who was foreman on the government-funded project to refurbish the village hall. A native of the area, Montgomery returned to McAdam after a 25-year absence four years ago, “when the mill was booming,” and got a job with Georgia-Pacific as a $7.60-anhour stockkeeper. After the mill closed, he went on unemployment insurance for several months before he “got on the grant”—his job at the village hall for which he was paid $7 an hour. But for Montgomery the future is uncertain, since the grant ran out two weeks ago. He is facing $310 a month in mortgage payments on the $35,000 mobile home that he shares with his wife, Wilma, and his nine-year-old son, Lee, and he is already behind on his utility bills. “The fellow from above will have to look after us,” he declares grimly.

Despite the uncertainty of the future, the spirit of McAdam’s citizens seems indomitable. Mayor Frank Carroll, 35, sounds as though he already has the inside track on divine intervention when he talks about his town’s prospects. “Something is going to take place,” he confidently predicts. Carroll believes that attracting two or three small “replacement industries” would do much to solve McAdam’s crisis.

But the village may also have to exploit more effectively its existing assets—none of which is more obvious than the town’s magnificent, but mouldering, château-style CPR station. Built from local granite in 1900, the station became a well-appointed showpiece as McAdam grew into the CPR’s busiest junction east of Montreal. The station’s facilities included everything from a customs office to a dining room and 17room hotel. In the years following the Second World War, 16 passenger trains, en route to Boston, Montreal, Saint John and other points, stopped in the village each day. Today, only freight trains rumble through, and the station has not even had a lunch counter since 1976.

In the spring Ottawa’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board plans to erect a plaque in a small park in front of the station identifying it as a building of national historic and architectural significance. Villagers have talked of erecting a museum at the station and running steam-train excursions to the old CPR resort town of St. Andrews, 80 km away, where the provincial govern-

ment is developing plans for a park on the former island estate of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the first president of the CPR. But Frank Carroll says that the steam-train idea “was not well received by CP Rail” when the plan was proposed a few years ago. Nonetheless, the mayor clings to the hope that the railway will eventually assist McAdam in some way. “It’s their town, and we expect them to fulfil their commitment,” he says. “This community gave its all to the CPR.”

Meanwhile, the village and its government advisers are touting the tourism potential of the nearby Chiputneti-

cook lakes at the head of the St. Croix River. Planners are hopeful that the fishing—bass and salmon—and the semiwilderness setting will lure visitors from both sides of the border. Notes Vaughan McCluskey: “Tourism is the area we should look at for stability.” Like McCluskey, most villagers seem confident of McAdam’s ability to weather the difficult times. Not readily countenancing premature reports of their town’s demise, they believe that, like the Canada geese at the station pond, good times will come again. Declares a defiant McCluskey: “We have our spirit and our pride.” lt;£>