A locally-produced video project aims to preserve Canada’s railway history

‘Railways have been an integral part of Canadian history since 1836’

A project aimed at bolstering awareness of the rich history of Canadian railways is underway.

Railways have been an integral part of Canadian history since 1836.

Rich Graydon, director of the Canadian Northern Society, has spearheaded a video project that explores various facets of that history through interviews with the folks that make up parts of the fascinating story.

“The Society is a non-profit group that owns the old railway station in Camrose, the railway station in Meeting Creek and the grain elevator there as well, and the train station in Big Valley,” he said from his Stettler office.

“We do railway preservation specific to the Canadian Northern Railway, and the three stations are three different design examples from the period when they were built – in the early 1900s,” he explained. “The Canadian Northern Railway was the predecessor to Canadian National Railways,” he added.

“It was the competition to CP back in the early 1900s.”

As to the project, the Canadian Northern Society (www.canadiannorthern.ca) has posted the first three of six ‘Canadian Railway Stories’ videos.

Wonderfully produced, they can be viewed on the organization’s Facebook page. Another three will be released later this year.

“Because of my involvement with Canadian Northern and some of the things that they do, I have met a lot of these people over the years – ex-railway employees. Quite a few of them are from the era of the 1950s, when the steam engine was disappearing and ‘dieselisation’ was going on.

“It really changed the face of railroading quite a bit,” he said.

“There were a lot of jobs that disappeared with mechanization, and there was a whole change to the way that things were done back then,” he said. “The number of people to maintain a diesel is like maybe one or two compared to the 10 or 12 needed for a steam engine.

“So there was a big difference that way.”

Graydon realized that ultimately, “We were slowly losing that piece of our history. So I thought, is there something that I can do to capture that history?

“I built the project up and contacted Canadian National, and they were kind enough to give me a grant for part (of the) funding to do the videos,” he said, adding that the videos also capture a personal perspective on the workers’ careers and the experiences that they had through the years on the job.

The first video focuses on Red Robinson, who started his career as a locomotive fireman with CN Rail in 1955.

Another follows Larry Potter, who was hired on with CN as a young man working on the tracks.

Viewers are treated to exceptional storytelling as these men recall their many experiences. The in-depth, insightful and often poignant conversations are complemented by historical photos and also of footage of both past scenes and modern scenarios, too.

Graydon credits the Bashaw-based Story Brokers Media for the exceptional production values as well.

As a release points out, “Generations of families have worked on the railway and played a part in its success. Many of the stories of these individuals have been lost to time and we are rapidly losing a part of this railway history right now.”

Again, the videos are posted to the Canadian Northern Society’s Facebook page as well as Canadian Northern’s Youtube page.

“It really seems to have gotten into everyone’s blood – those who worked on the railway,” said Graydon, reflecting on the conversations he has had during this creative journey.

“I also want people to understand those generations, and how different things were for them. We just don’t want to lose those stories.”