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Muskoka, Parry Sound Genealogy Group

An Article of Interest

A Thrilling Ride

by A.E. McGillivray

When I was about six years old, there occurred a trip which I shall always remember for its danger and, oddly enough. for its novelty. At the time I did not realize what we were going through but now as I look back over that wild ride. I almost shudder to think of our dangerous trip and the many ways in which we might have been hurt or even killed.

In 1886, my father sold our old homestead where we children had all been born and purchased a mill with a large tract of timber in the then unsettled district of Muskoka. Our new home was in a little milling village (Novar) far up in this district which had been planted in the middle of a huge forest. It was there that my father decided to enter his old trade of sawmilling and as a railroad was nearing completion everything looked forward to a thriving business.

Late in the fall of 1886 our last preparations of our intended journey were completed. At first we children were loath to part with our old home (Owen Sound area)and its pleasures but as we looked forward to our first trip on a railroad we soon forgot all our old pleasure haunts and counted the hours that would elapse till we would leave.

Our journey started by a drive in the stage (18 miles), then followed a trip by train which carried us far away north towards our new home. We soon reached the junction of the railroads where we were to change to the train on the railroad passing through Muskoka. Judge of my father's disappointment to find that by some means the contractors had been delayed several weeks so that regular traffic would not begin for a month. He also found that no train would leave for several days.

Of course we were all disappointed for a time, but as sorrowing would not better our condition we "took in" the town. Our spirits took a decided advance when we learned that a special train under rush orders would leave the next day. Upon investigation, my father learned that it would be loaded with steel rails which were to be rushed through to the other end of the line where the constructions were idle on account of lack of rails. Father succeeded in getting the use of a car on this train, but a trip on a train load of steel rails was anything but inviting. Still, as it was our only choice, we would have to take advantage of the opportunity or stay for several weeks.

Happily, father found a merchant who was shipping some goods to the same place as we were going so they arranged a flat car for us. Barrels of sugar, salt and molasses were placed on end around the side of the car, the crevices being filled with smaller boxes and bales. The floor of the car was covered with rolls of carpet as was the top. In this way we had a little hut on the car, large enough to accommodate us all.

We were soon inside and ready for our departure which came too soon to suit us as my parents looked forward to a wild trip and wished it over as soon as possible. Our car was directly behind the engine and as soon as we started the sparks and cinders began descending in showers on our carpet roof. We began to go faster, the car rocked from side to side as, with ever increasing speed, we shot around curves, up and down grades.

The road bed, as I said before, was just newly put in and you may well believe that it was anything but smooth. The roar of the twenty carloads of rails behind us was deafening and when we looked out of a crevice it seemed to us as if we were a meteor shooting through space.

At such a speed as we were going, the first and best part of the road was soon passed over and it was not long before the increased rocking showed that the roadbed was becoming rougher. To make our situation worse, great holes were beginning to appear in our roof where great cinders had fallen and taken fire. My father who was standing outside was busied in putting out little blazes which started here and there. Situated where he was, he could appreciate the danger of our situation. The roadbed beneath us was freshly put in and had never been tested by anything except the construction train. When one compares the construction train with our heavy train of steel, sweeping along at a tremendous pace, he will become impressed with the tact that there was great danger of our finding ourselves at the bottom of some gorge beneath about twenty carloads of steel.

Far ahead was an iron bridge over a stupendous gorge, where hundred of feet below rushed a torrent of water through a passage covered with huge boulders. To increase our danger, this bridge was still unfinished, many of the supports not being in place. The part that was finished was not tested so it was not known what it would support. Well might my father look grave and my mother look frightened!

I can distinctly remember the roar the train made as we dashed on the bridge and the hollow rumble at the middle united with the crashing of steel sent a thrill through even our childish hearts. It seemed to take an age to cross the bridge, but at last we reached the solid roadbed again.

The remainder of the trip was much the same as the first except that there were fewer shaky places. We children slept nearly ail the rest of the trip, once in a while one of us would ask "Are we nearly there mother;" "Almost, I hope dear," would be her reply and satisfied for the time being we would drop to sleep to waken in a few minutes and repeat our question. We were able to see the stars shining through the huge holes in our carpet roof, even the sober old moon seemed to be travelling along with us and looking down on us.

Our trip, like every other, ended at last and early in the morning we landed in our new home in a land of strangers. Here we soon settled down and in a short time our little town was named. My father was given the honor of naming the town, which he did, calling it after his boyhood home in Scotland, Novar.

This article first appeared in the November 1987 newsletter, Volume 3 - Number 2

Muskoka, Parry Sound Genealogy Group