The Railwayman

In Toronto, Percy found work with the Canadian Northern Railway, no doubt aided by his big brother Ted. The Canadian Northern was founded to compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway  and completed a transcontinental track in 1916, but, overwhelmed by debt, was nationalized in 1917 and eventually (in 1923) joined with the Grand Trunk Railway and other government-held railways to form the Canadian National Railway. (1)

Piano receipt 1915Percy’s first major purchase in Canada was a piano bought from Gourlay, Winter and Leeming, which sold a range of pianos, including their own very fine Gourlay and the more modest, also Canadian-made, Mendelssohn. (2) The piano may have been of modest quality, but $296 even over “sundry times” was not a modest expense, and a century later is equivalent to about $6000. (3)

By January 1916, he was living at 31 Vine Avenue, in the area of Toronto known as The Junction, bisected by two major railway lines. Vine Avenue runs parallel to Dundas Street West, between Dundas and the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was a convenient location for a railwayman.

westtoronto station

West Toronto (Canadian National Railway) Photo: James Victor Salmon, Toronto Public Library, S 1-4131B, ca. 1957 (4)

The stockyards, however, were on the other side of the railway track, and an abattoir. It cannot have been a very attractive place to live, not least because the town was “dry” having prohibited the sale of alcohol in 1904, and not entirely rescinding the prohibition until 2000. (5)

An advantage of working for the railway was cheap travel – a real benefit if your closest relatives live more than 375 miles away, in Joliette, Quebec. Joliette was a divisional point in the Canadian Northern Railway, that is, a major station with significant facilities for repair and maintenance.

RR Pass Jan 26 1916Some thirty miles northeast of Montreal, Joliette had a small English-speaking community. Ted Theobald was one of them – it must have seemed a very long way indeed from Faversham. Others came from not quite so far, including one George T. Boone, also a railwayman, from New Brunswick.  Percy joined his brother for holidays: Ted and Alice kept Christmas well, to quote one of their favourite authors, the Kentishman Charles Dickens. They maintained English customs, such as playing snapdragon  (snatching raisins out of flaming spirit), they always had a big box of chocolates, and friends were part of the festivities.

(1) More information
(2) Assessment courtesy of
(3) According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator
(4) Image from
(5) West Toronto Junction Historical Society

Copyright 2016. See “About this project.”





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