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Growing Up in Lucknow

Bill Chester

As a youngster, growing up in Lucknow I was most familiar with the CNR but the CPR branches terminating at Walkerton, Teeswater/Wingham and Goderich were intriguing. In the eyes of a youngster, their equipment seemed different compared to that which I was familiar.

Another reason for my interest in CN was that my grandfather was a station agent for that railway. In fact, he died of a heart attack on the job in 1943 at Malton. He was 47. He started out with Canadian Pacific in Guelph but switched teams joining the Grand Trunk about a year after. Over the years, I've met a number of retired agents and operators and have come to appreciate the workload they routinely faced. I can only imagine the stress on agents and operators who didn't enjoy the modern technology seen today.

When I was a kid, my father was a stationery engineer with Canada Packers in Toronto and on many occasions, I accompanied him to the city when he was working a shorter week. In Toronto, Brampton and Guelph, I got to see a little more of the CPR. Still some of the villages like Wroxeter and Gorrie were equally interesting and sometimes was fortunate
to see some activity. My grandmother lived across from the CNR Station in Brampton and just down the street; I had a clear view of the CPR traffic crossing the diamond. All wonderful stuff to a kid and thank heavens, the keen interest in railways never left. While on the surface, some might think railroaders as crusty lot, the reality is most are highly skilled and hardworking individuals.

Growing up in Lucknow, I recall how Silverwood's had a significant presence in the village. It was a major employer for many years and I would suggest directly and indirectly there were likely 40-50 employees. The "Creamery" as locals knew it, served a variety of dairy needs for both farmers and consumers alike and in towns and cities further a field.

Silverwood's was located on the corner of Havelock and Ludgard Streets, directly across from the CNR station. And in the immediate area, there were a number of businesses that served the farming community. John W. Henderson Lumber Limited, the Ontario Stockyards, Treleaven's Elevator, the Co-op fertilizer plant as well as coal sheds operated by the hardware stores in town.

Those who needed to, could send telegrams from either the station itself or, if it were closed and in an emergency, from my aunt's. She was a CNR telegrapher, who lived next to Silverwood's. Aunt Liz had a "key" in her home (she also ran the express office downtown). So the CNR station was at the center of all these businesses.

Many a farmer's visit to Lucknow often started by dropping off cans of cream at Silverwood's before doing other business with merchants in town. Some farmers would buy buttermilk from Silverwood's to feed to their hogs and other livestock.

Not only did local farmers sell their cream to Silverwood's but producers from farther away would ship cream in cans to Lucknow by train. Both the morning mixed-train from Wingham and the return afternoon train from Kincardine dropped off cream cans from farmers around the area. How times have changed. Today, all bulk raw milk is shipped in tank trucks under the strictest hygienic standards.

As well, some farmers would either bring or ship their eggs to Lucknow where Silverwood's also operated an egg grading station at the corner of Campbell and Stauffer Streets. This operation sold eggs and other Silverwood's products and was located on Lucknow's main street. This building was demolished over 25 years ago and is now a parking lot for a grocery store.

So with the creamery and the egg operation, as well as Silverwood's product made elsewhere (such as ice cream products from London) Lucknow was a major distribution point for the company serving towns in Huron and Bruce. It seemed like a substantial operation and in the summer, when the population along Lake Huron grew, there was a much heavier demand, especially for ice cream.

The Lucknow creamery made butter. As a kid it was interesting to see the big churns in operation processing tons of butter to be sold in the regions served by the company. After the churning process, it was cut and wrapped with waxed paper the put into cartons. A number of my friends worked at Silverwood's packing the butter into these cartons and packing them into larger butter boxes for shipping. I always marveled at the speed they could achieve in this manual packaging process. Their hands flew in a blur to the eye and in an instant it was done.

A couple of times a year, a carload of new butter boxes was spotted across the road at the station. There were hundreds of wooden boxes in each car and were unload onto wagons and taken over to the creamery.

In addition to making butter and because it had an extensive refrigeration facility, Silverwood's provided a cold storage service where lockers were rented to those needed extra freezing capacity. I remember the one my mother rented seemed to be about six cubic feet and she had it well stocked with meats, pies and other preserves. It was always a great relief to go there in the hot, humid days of summer and cool off. Sometimes one of the workers would treat you to a sampling of ice cream.

When the plant closed in the late sixties, it was a sad day for the community after so many years being an economic engine and source of income sustaining many families.

Silverwood's physical plant still stands in Lucknow. I last saw it in September 2009 and sadly it's pretty run down and I'm not sure what it's used for. Like many communities, a loss of a business like Silverwood's will never be recovered.

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