My maternal grandparents were of modest means, but had hearts of gold. Both worked at blue collar jobs, and had a history of working additional odd jobs to make ends meet.
We always looked forward to our weekends with them in a small town northwest of Montreal. The house sat on a big lot with enough room for a very large vegetable garden and a work shed at the back that also had a stable where a workhorse once lived. They also owned a wood lot a few kilometres away, and we would travel there with my grandfather whenever he needed to cut down trees for firewood. The main property would easily have 10 cords of seasoned split wood on it to carry them through the cold months.
Both properties sat on the Canadian Shield where the soil was thin, boulders seemed to sprout like cabbage heads, trail surfaces were mostly gravelly, and trees were everywhere. Today, whenever I am in Gatineau Park, I am reminded of the landscape around my grandparents’ home.
It was on the step of that work shed that my grandfather and I sometimes sat, and where he told me stories about life as it was when he raised his daughters here. He took the time and demonstrated the patience needed to teach me how to use a combination lock, and exposed me to my first stories of sacrifice when he talked of how he had to leave the family for months at a time to work in the bush of Northern Ontario.
The lumber camps were situated north of Sault Ste-Marie, and he spoke of having to take a train north from there toward a small town called Hearst, over a 1,000 kms away from home.
It was as an adult, after his passing and with my own children under my wing while on a trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park that I discovered Algoma Country, and the Agawa Canyon Tour train that runs along the very Algoma Central Railway line that my grandfather would have been on some 60 years earlier.
Today, the train makes stops at various intervals along the eastern edge of Lake Superior Provincial Park to drop off canoe campers. I could well imagine this same train making similar stops at the logging camps that would have dotted the tracks…