The winter of 1972 in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec was severe. In Ottawa snowfall exceeded 220" vs. a normal 160". One day in March 1972 I had a meeting scheduled in Montreal, planning to travel on the CN 7:30am train out of Ottawa, returning on the Super Continental at 5:00pm. It was snowing when I left the house, with snow forecast for the entire day, with something like 7" total accumulation (7" is not unusual for Ottawa and Montreal, and barely slows anything down). It turns out the weather service was a little out on this 7" accumulation!
I had a parlor car seat on the 7:30 and headed for the diner for breakfast as soon as the train made its on time departure. The snow became much heavier the closer we got to Montreal, 123 miles from Ottawa. The train reached CN's Central Station in Montreal at 9:50am, some 20 minutes late, so things weren't too bad — yet.
The office I was heading to was only a few blocks from the station, so I had planned to walk over, but the lack of almost any people, cars or buses on the main downtown Montreal streets surprised me. The snow was getting deep.
When I arrived at the meeting, the few people there were surprised I had bothered to come at all. Anyway, after about an hour a secretary came into the room and said everything was closing down and all should go home. She also made the comment that some trains were not running, which affected most others in the room besides me, as they commuted by train.
A call to CN confirmed all trains were canceled, even the Super Continental, for at least the rest of the day. I then called Canadian Pacific who stated the Canadian would operate as scheduled, although most other trains were canceled. I reserved a coach seat for the 2:00pm departure.
With several other people from the office, we walked the few blocks to CP's Windsor Station. As soon as we walked through the door we joined several thousand other would-be commuter passengers who were trying to get to their homes on the western part of the Island of Montreal. When I bought my ticket, the agent said he didn't think the Canadian would be leaving on time, but it was definitely going. I rejoined the folks from the office, just standing around and talking.
The 2:00pm departure time came and went, but the train didn't. A little after 4:00pm the PA system came alive: "Passengers with sleeping car reservations on the Canadian . . ." The rest of the message was totally lost as the crowd erupted into howls of laughter. But the gate did swing open for such passengers.
A little after 5:00pm reserved coach passengers (that's me) were allowed to board. The agent who checked my ticket at the gate said he didn't know when the train would leave, but it would be "when the diesels get back from plowing the line." I boarded the coach, stashed my briefcase in the overhead rack, and headed for the dining car.
Those readers who are too young to have ever eaten in a railroad dining car prior to Amtrak or VIA have missed something special. The food was excellent, rivaling many of the finest restaurants. The roast turkey I had on the Canadian that night was superb.
Just as I began eating my dessert I noticed a horde of people rushing down the platform beside the train. I didn't pay much attention as I thought they were heading for the commuter train on the next track. However, when I tried to return to my coach I found it crammed with people — standing room only! It seems that in an attempt to get as many commuters home as possible, and since the Canadian was several hours late already, it would stop at all the commuter stops from Windsor Station to Rigaud, some 15 stations and 50 miles. I also learned the diesels were back and coupled on the front of the train.
Standing in the crowd didn't really appeal to me so I headed for the dome car, and the front seat upstairs. As time passed other coach passengers who couldn't get to their seats because of the commuters joined me.
A few minutes later, about 6:30pm, the train moved. Very slowly. It traveled far enough to get all the cars out of the station, then stopped. For two hours. Finally we were underway, and made the station stops as planned all the way to Ste. Anne de Bellevue, which is the last stop on the Island of Montreal.
At Ste. Anne's the CN and CP tracks parallel each other as they cross the Ottawa River. Both are double-track railroads at this point, and both cross on girder bridges, so when you look out the window all you see is water! The train left Ste. Anne's and proceeded onto the bridge, where it stopped. Not only was it still snowing heavily, the wind was blowing with some pretty good gusts. The cars were rocking on that bridge from the wind. A mother and 10-year old daughter, sitting in the other front seat of the dome car, were getting scared the car would overturn into the river. So, being the expert on railroads that I am (note the humble pat on the back), I spoke to them and calmed them down.
Soon the train began to move, and proceeded slowly as it made the rest of the station stops to Rigaud, where we met the eastbound Canadian from Vancouver, running about 10 hours late. Although the lead locomotive was an FP9, it was not recognizable. Only the headlight and windshields were visible. The rest of the nose of the locomotive was plastered with snow and ice; you could not see the number boards nor the coupler. Icicles hung from the sides. This would be quite a site to model!
Travel west of Rigaud was made easier by the passing of the eastbound Canadian, but we still encountered many drifts. The engineer got the train close to track speed and then attacked the drifts. The dome car gave a spectacular view of that attack.
The headlight illuminated the track ahead, so seeing the drifts was easy. Then the locomotive would hit the drift, the entire train shudder from the hit, and snow would fly upwards and back over the roof of the train. Fortunately, there were two locomotives and 6 cars ahead of the glass on our dome. It was quite a site as the train took out drift after drift!
The Canadian arrived in Ottawa about 2:30am, 10½ hours late. But the adventure was not over. The last 10 miles from Ottawa Station to home were as challenging as the previous 123 miles!
Since there were no taxis or buses at the station I offered to drive the mother and daughter to their hotel, plus a couple of other travelers who lived in my general direction came along. The first task was to get the car out of the station parking lot. Fortunately, I had learned to keep a shovel in the trunk during Ottawa winters. It took an hour of shoveling and pushing the car to get out.
I dropped the mother and daughter at their hotel, then the others, and arrived home to find I would have to shovel my way into my own driveway. Another hour. Finally into bed at 5:00am, just in time for the alarm to go off at 6:00!
Oh yeah, that forecast 7" of snow turned into 23".
Any questions about why I live in the South??
The consist of the Canadian that day was 2 FP9A diesels, baggage car, combine, 3 coaches, diner, dome, 3 sleepers and dome/observation. All the cars were Budd stainless steel corrugated cars.