Canadian National Railway
29th October, 1947
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm on the last lap of my journey now, and am scheduled to reach Vancouver at 9:20 a.m. on Friday the 31st October.
The"Aquitania" reached Halifax on Sunday at 1 a.m., over a day late, due to the bad weather. In fact, from the accounts in the newspapers here, it's the worst crossing she's ever experienced. Sunday morning was pretty hectic as everybody had to pass through the Immigration authorities who came on board, so you can guess that would take some time when there were over 2,000 passengers. However, I was lucky, as Canadian citizens and Canadian war brides were called first and I was off the ship by 2 p.m. The Red Cross were there to meet us, and made a very welcome cup of tea while we were waiting for our train. I got through the Customs all right - they didn't even open any of my luggage, though lots of other people weren't so lucky, and I tipped a Redcap to put my suitcase on the right train for me. I wanted to make sure it did get on the train, and seeing is believing!
I didn't much care for the journey from Halifax to Montreal as all the Canadian War Brides were travelling together in two special cars on the train so I had to part with some of the friends I made on the ship. There were 65 of us, including children, and the noise was terrific.
Rather a tragic thing happened during the night though. One of the girls had her five-months old baby sleeping in her bunk with her, and about 2 a.m. she woke up and found that it had suffocated in the pillow. We had two Red Cross nurses travelling with us from Halifax to Montreal, and they were informed right away, but the baby was dead. The train stopped for a couple of hours and the mother had to be taken off as there'll have to be an inquest. Wasn't that terrible?
We stopped at a little place called Mont Joli on Monday forenoon, and were allowed off the train for 20 minutes. It was typically French, even the newspapers and magazines were all written in French. Still it was good to get a breath of fresh air.
By lunchtime we were at Quebec and saw the Chateau de Frontenac. It was certainly a wonderful sight.I thought the food aboard ship was good but, honestly, the meals on the train are just about perfection. In fact, they look so beautiful when they're put down in front of you that it seems a crime to have to break them up with a fork. For breakfast to-day, I had half a grapefruit with a marachino cherry in the middle, two fried eggs, toast, marmalade and coffee. The coffee is served with plenty of sugar and a whole jug of real cream. For lunch, I had Green Pea Soup, Braised Beef with Creamed Carrots and Potatoes, Lettuce Hearts with French Dressing, Strawberry Ice Cream and Spongecake, and coffee. I was sitting have a cigarette afterwards when the waiter came up and asked if I'd like something else. I thought he was kidding, and said, "How much more can you get with a dollar meal ticket?" He said as long as I sat at his table I could have anything I wanted, whether my meal ticket covered it or not, and he immediately dashed off and brought me another helping of Ice Cream. There's nothing like getting in good with the waiter!
The Red Cross gave us two kinds of meal tickets - one priced at 45 cents, and one at a dollar. Breakfast is 45 cents, lunch is a dollar, and for dinner we have to give up 1$45¢, so you could imagine the meals would be quite expensive if you had to pay your own. However, the Chief Steward in the Dining Car must feel sorry for me or something, because sometimes he only takes a dollar ticket from me at night, & for breakfast he rarely takes one from me at all, and he always says to the waiter, "Let her have anything she wants."
Well, anyway, we got in to Montreal Central Station at 7.30p.m. on Monday and the Red Cross were meeting us again, to see to our luggage and put on the right trains. Montreal Station is really beautiful, isn't it - I wish I could have seen around a bit more but my connection left at 8.30p.m., so there wasn't time.
Now that I'm on this train, I have no more changing to do, thank goodness. The rest of the war brides have gone their different ways so I just feel like an ordinary passenger now I'm on my own. I have an upper berth, and, strangely enough, haven't fallen down the ladder yet! However, there's still time!
From Montreal to Winnipeg, the scenery seemed to consist of nothing but trees. You could hardly imagine how there could be a housing shortage in Canada when there's so much timber around. We got into Winnipeg this morning at 10.20a.m. and the train halted for an hour. Another girl and I went for a short walk along one of the main streets. There are some beautiful cars, Johnny would revel in them I' sure - Studebakers, Packards, Chryslers, etc. It's been a beautiful day too, as warm as can be, and I don't think I've ever seen a bluer sky. It's such a brilliant blue, it almost hurts your eyes to look at it. The streets in Winnipeg are very wide and there are some lovely buildings. When we got back to the Station, I sent off a cable to Al, and then we went into a Restaurant for a cup of coffee and a ham sandwich. I was just finishing mine when I heard a voice booming through the loudspeaker in the Station, calling for Mrs. Lee, and when I got up to the train, I found a man from the Red Cross just checking up that I was all right. They certainly have a marvellous organization.
Since we left Winnipeg, the country has flattened out into prairie. There are no more trees, only vast stretches of land with here and there an occasional homestead. We're still in the province of Manitoba, but to-morrow should be in Saskatchewan - after that comes Alberta, the Rockies, & then Vancouver.
The trains are really very comfortable and you don't notice the length of the journeys. It's amazing how quickly the days go in. Every 15 minutes or so, a man comes along selling coffee, sandwiches, coco-cola, chocolate, candies, salted peanuts, apples, oranges, grapes, and so on. As a matter of fact, I've just finished having a coco-cola. Well, I guess I'll close for now, & finish this letter to-morrow. It's pretty difficult trying to write in these trains as they're much bumpier than the ones back home. They stop and start a lot too, and you just get about jolted from one end of the car to the other.
Cherio for now.
Well, another night is over and we've passed Edmonton, Alberta, and should be nearing the Rockies in about half an hour. We had about an hour's stop at Edmonton at 8.20a.m., and, gosh, was it ever cold there! There was snow on the ground and very heavy frost. Since we left there, though, we strike due south and it's beginning to get warm again. The sun is still shining and everything looks really beautiful. I was up at 5 o'clock this morning and saw dawn breaking as I was having breakfast.
Most of the people I've met have now dropped off at intermediate stations and, as a matter of fact, so many passengers got off at Edmonton, that they took away about four coaches and I had to move up to another car. The girl who slept in the bunk under mine on the "Aquitania" is still with me though she's in the next car. However we pay each other visits and go in to meals together. Her name, by the way, is Ita (pronounced Eye-ta) and she's Irish. She's a very nice girl, very pretty too, and is just coming back to Vancouver after spending a six month's holiday with her parents. Her husband will be waiting for her at Vancouver too, so we're both going to be busy to-night trying to make ourselves look fairly presentable before getting in to-morrow morning.
After two weeks continuous travelling, you do feel a bit of a wreck, and there's nothing more ruinous to one's peace of mind than to fall asleep and know one's tailoring is going all to pieces! It's a good thing that my travels will be over soon because all my clothes are getting crumpled, my hair could do with a good wash, and, generally speaking, I'm beginning to feel dishevelled a little more than somewhat! A few more days like this one and Al probably wouldn't even recognize me - I'd have to tie one of these Red Cross labels around my neck or something.
GEOGRAPHICAL NOTE:- We've just crossed the Athabaska River and are approaching the first of the Rockies. All the lower parts are densely wooded and , here and there, you can see lakes with the sun beating down on them and making the ripples look like diamonds. The train seems to be going round in circles now and every so often you can see the engine way up ahead as it twists and turns. There's no getting away from the fact that the scenery is beautiful - I only wish you were here to share it with me. We've slowed down considerably now, as we seem to be climbing steadily. I've certainly met all sorts of people on this trip - some marvellous fun, some crashing bores, a couple of would-be smart guys, some very nice girls, and one, who got off at Edmonton, couldn't read or write. She's English too, believe it or not, but I don't suppose it matters much whether she's educated or not, as she's married to a French-Canadian lumberjack and, from his photograph, he doesn't look as if he could read or write either! She used to amuse me though. Her favourite expression was, "They don't tell nobody nothink!"
I think I'll finish this letter off here and will write you again whenever I reach Vancouver. It's really painful trying to keep a pencil in your hand with the train swaying from side to side so much.
In the meantime, give my love to Margaret, John, Patricia, Betty & Johnny, and Norma if you see her.
Lots of love to you both,