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'A glue that holds this place together': Why the Canadian Pacific Railway inspires two women about Canada

Martha Nixon and Susan Carter - members of our live audience in Gatineau - talk about the Canadian Pacific Railway, and how the personal connections forged while travelling across the country gave them hope for Canada's future.
A train under repair. at the Canadian Pacific Railway's Ogden Shops, circa 1913. (Glenbow Archives/PA-3858-13)

This week, Cross Country Checkup asked listeners across the land to select something inspiring from Canada's history, as we continue to mark 150 years since Confederation. 

Guests, audience members and callers alike singled out public figures, artifacts and historical places.

However, friends Martha Nixon and Susan Carter — members of our live audience in Gatineau, Que. — chose a transportation system. They spoke to Checkup host Duncan McCue about the Canadian Pacific Railway, and how the personal connections forged while travelling across the country gave them hope for a more cohesive Canada in the future.  

Listen to their conversation below:

Martha Nixon and Susan Carter - members of our live audience in Gatineau - talk about the Canadian Pacific Railway, and how the personal connections forged while travelling across the country gave them hope for Canada's future. 3:17

Martha Nixon: Susan Carter and I, Martha Nixon, are friends. And, when we started thinking about this question as we were coming into the hall, one of the things that occurred to me was that I get really inspired by the thought of the railway and the role that it's played in Canada ... and particularly the role that it's played in my life as I grew up in Quebec. 

My father decided to have us transferred to Alberta, and we were lucky enough — even though we didn't really want to make the transition — to be able to sit on the train for two and a half days to get ourselves there. Just the experience as a young teenager watching Canada go by day after day was really quite inspiring. 

And then, I had the chance to come back on my own, sitting the dome car, and realizing that this country has so much potential. Sitting on the train actually allowed you to really connect with other Canadians— often people that you didn't know. It tied us together one way or another and allowed me to make that transition from the East to the West.  

I think when we look back on the history of the railroad as it began in 1885, it's played a strong role in how our history has been shaped. And I think if we were wise, [we] would look at it into the future ... because I think we could do a whole lot more in looking at it as a form of transportation and a way of keeping ourselves together as we go forward into the next 150 years. 

Susan Carter: Yes, I find that the trains have played a key role in being a glue that holds this place together ... and that can increase the awareness of one part of the country to the other. It used to be that you could travel almost anywhere in this country by train. That's not the case anymore. 

But, being on a train as you're speeding through the darkness telling your life story in the bar car to some total stranger is a way to connect and bond. There are trains that have musicians who play on the train in return for transportation. There's a woman who teaches knitting and has invented something called the "Railway Stitch," where you can knit and the jostling of the train won't cause you to drop some stitches...

Duncan McCue: Well, that's handy!

SC: ...This is an incredible part of what holds us together and I hope there will be more of it in the future. 

DM: Martha, you mentioned that as you were looking out the window of the train and crossing the country that you saw 'potential.' Why did that word jump into your head?

MN: Well, I think it was just that I was being wrenched away from my home and everything I knew in Quebec, and I was being transported out to this land Alberta and had no idea what awaited me. And somehow or other, just realising that I was part of something that was a whole lot bigger than where I had been. I was making this transition by seeing what was going on across the country — in a very small way of course — but it helped me think about Canada in a very different way. Maybe it was potential. Maybe it was just that it was a very large and vast place.

Duncan McCue's conversation with Susan Carter and Martha Nixon has been edited and condensed for clarity. ​This online segment was prepared by Ashley Mak.

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