The Canadian Pacific Railway Employee Sketches
By Erick Middleton, July 1999
Reprinted from “CardTalk” Summer 1999, the Newsletter of the Toronto Post Card Club
A couple of years ago while browsing the Internet for history on the hotels that were owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) I stumbled onto the Canadian Pacific Archives website. I did not find any information on the hotels but did discover some images of sketches depicting employees of the CPR that were produced on postcards. I was immediately attracted to them because the detail of the subjects depicted looked so real that they appeared to jump right off the card. I can think of no better way of introducing you to these cards than quoting the text that appears on the face of the cover card included in the series.
“One’s first thought of a railway brings to mind parallel lines of steel tracks over which run trains of passenger or freight cars drawn by a locomotive. Beside the tracks are telegraph poles, and at intervals there are stations with platforms. In some larger centres are roundhouses and railway shops.To run and operate this equipment there is an army of employees with some of whom the traveller comes in contact, though far more remain unseen by him except in casual glimpses.”
“Within the sixty years of its Charter, the personnel of the Canadian Pacific Railway has grown and changed greatly. The number of its employees over the past few years, not including those who serve on its Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific steamships, has averaged between fifty and sixty thousand. The problem of making a representative selection of portraits from these employees for a set of pictures was quite a knotty one.”
“Miss Kathleen Shackleton, the distinguished artist who undertook the job, limited her subjects mainly to those who wore some kind of distinctive costume, even if it might only be overalls, in the exercise of their craft, and was guided further in her selection by representatives of the Railway Labour Organizations and by Officers of the operating department of the Company. Forty-eight types have in this way been chosen, divided, for convenience in handling, into two packages. So far as known this is the first attempt to present in handy pictorial form the personnel of a great railway – which in this case is the Canadian Pacific Railway, the greatest transportation system in the world.”
These postcards were issued in two sets of twenty-four cards each. A short explanation of the subject’s duties appears at the foot of each portrait. The cards were issued in standard size and the portrait of each employee was drawn top-to-bottom along the long edge. (See some images of representative cards appear at the end of this article.) All sketches appear to be signed by the artist and many are also dated, either ‘1940’ or ‘1941’. The publication date for this series was scheduled for October 20, 1941 but production delayed their introduction. They were eventually made available before Christmas 1941 in time for employees to purchase them as gifts. For the convenience of those who wished to see the whole series a number of the sets were mounted on large cards and displayed through the offices of the general superintendents of the CPR at places where railway men were most likely to see them. They were also made available through CPR restaurants and newsstands and through the General Publicity Agent. The set of cards was first sold at 50 cents for the complete series. Miss Kathleen Shackleton spent eight months, which included much traveling, to get all these representative types.
At the bottom of the page are scans of all 48 postcards along with the employee’s name and a brief description their job.
About the Artist
Kathleen Shackleton (1884-1961) was born in Dublin, Ireland and lived in London, England. She was the sister of the famous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. She immigrated to Canada in 1912 where she settled in Montreal and produced and exhibited numerous paintings. She returned to England in 1916 and stayed until the late 1920’s before eventually returning to Canada. She became known for her skillfully drawn pastel portraits. Her sitters were people from all walks of life and her clients came mainly from Montreal and the surrounding area.
Between 1930 and 1938 Shackleton executed a series of cultural portraits which were used by the Canadian Pacific to promote folkdance, folksong, and handicraft festivals. Her portraits also appeared as illustrations in “Canadian Mosaic” – a book written by J.M. Gibbon, general publicity agent of the Canadian Pacific. In 1937-38, on a commission from the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), she produced 55 pastel portraits of people indigenous to northern Canada that are now part of the HBC Archives. Some of these images can be viewed on the Archives of Manitoba website.
In the early 1940s Shackleton created a series of portraits of Canadian Pacific employees. The portraits were exhibited in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, and other Canadian cities. Shackleton was an accomplished artist, exhibiting on several occasions with Art Association of Montreal and with the Royal Canadian Academy. She also wrote articles, lectured and gave talks on the radio. After a successful career in Canada, she returned to England, where she spent the remaining years of her interesting life.
It was very difficult to find anyone who knew of this postcard series. But I continued to look and eventually my hunting paid off. I have 38 of the 48 cards in the set and also lack the cover card. They are extremely difficult to find postally used because the employees, who presumably purchased the majority of sets, kept them as souvenirs. A few months ago I again browsed the CPR website, only to find that the images have been removed. On a recent correspondence I learned that the some (and quite possibly all) of the original sketches were given to the employee pictured upon their retirement from the company. The biographical information on Kathleen Shackleton came through correspondence with people found on the Internet. Without the Internet I probably wouldn’t have discovered these cards nor been able to share the facts about them with you. There are still a lot of unanswered questions I have. Who was contracted to print the cards? How many sets were sold? When did the CPR discontinue sales of the series? Maybe the answers lie out on the Internet or perhaps with a reader of this article.
1. Canadian Pacific Railway Archives
2. Hudson Bay Company Archives
Capt. Francis S. Middleton, S.S. Assiniboia; V.I. Farry, sleeping car conductor, Winnipeg; J.M. Roy, conduction, Quebec Central Railway; Billy Hicks, bellboy, Royal York Hotel, Toronto; T. Beresford, hostler, Winnipeg round house; Stanley H. Binns, locomotive engineer, Toronto; Thomas William Cox, dining car steward, Manitoba district; W.A. Begg, passenger conductor, Alberta district;Robert A. Spears, telegraph messenger, Toronto; J.B. Norlock, hotel waiter, Royal York Hotel, Toronto; J. Meaney, locomotive fireman, Winnipeg round house; F.E. Drake, CPR constable, Toronto; W.A. Phillips, sleeping car porter, Toronto; Perry F. Thombs, locomotive engineer, Brownville Jct. Maine; William Hiltz, locomotive engineer, Dominion Atlantic Railway, Kentville, Nova Scotia; H. Jenkins, dining car steward, Winnipeg; Capt. Andrew MacDonald, S.S. Helene, Saint John, N.B.; Purser P. Hamilton, S.S. Assiniboia (ex Port McNicoll); Henri Odiau, chief chef, CPR hotel system, Royal York, Toronto; J.A. Lemire, station master, Windsor Station, Montreal; Alex Robert McPherson, sleeping car conductor, Vancouver; A.C. Marshall, express pick-up, Regina; H.B. McConnell, passenger brakeman, Toronto; Mary Dubray, parlor maid, Royal York Hotel, Toronto
John A. Maxwell, dispatcher, Revelstoke; G.T. Jackson, station agent, LaCombe; R. Lariviere, leverman, Windsor Station, Montreal; James Joplin, moulder, Winnipeg, Weston Shops; W.F. Becksted, signal maintenance, Montreal; K.B. Mackenzie, crossing watchman, Montreal; G.W. Edney, apprentice (electrician), Winnipeg; Herbert Patrick Kelly, freight handler, Saint John, N.B.; Jean Baptiste Vinette, lineman, Toronto; R.T. Jones, blacksmith, Vancouver; Charles Holmes, blacksmith, Angus Shops, Montreal; J. Thornber, car charge hand, Shaunavon; Albert Percival Smith, general passenger car foreman, Toronto; J. O. Ethier, machinist, Angus Shops, Montreal; E.L. Dolron, shop laborer, Angus Shops, Montreal; George Dowdell, section foreman, Toronto; William North, boiler maker foreman, Vancouver; J.W. Dussault, bridge building man, Montreal; R.G. Bromwich, inspector, CPR Communications Dept., Montreal; W. Orysiuk, track watchman, Cathedral; G. Ellis, chief engineer, Glacier; W. Stewart, boiler foreman, Moose Jaw; L. Baile, freight conductor, Vancouver; P.J. McGarvey, freight conductor, Toronto
My wife’s grandfather J-A Lemire is on one of the postcards. Her younger sister has the original portrait. I just found out about the postcard. I will start looking for his, either on line or in antique malls. I wish I had known about these postcards years ago. I would be very interested in obtaining the one postcard of J.A. Lemire, station master, Windsor Station, Montreal. If anyone has an extra of this card or could put me in contact with someone who does, it would be greatly appreciated.
Love the postcards, pastel of my husband and watercolor of inuit
actually there is 25 postcards to each set as each set has an introduction to it with a check list on the back. Ive found looking for info that the cards were made available just before Christmas 1941 employees could purchase 1 or a whole set or both sets. I have all 50.
these postcards were sent from Canadian Pacific to the Canadian army overseas in Great Britain in 1942 i have the envelope they were sent in
Nicely done, I am one of the lucky ones that has collected these cards over the years, me and my family worked for the hotel company back in the day, and my father use to work with some of the employees that were on some of the cards.
Great stuff, thank you.
Mario TPC member