Time Space Equation

Andy Orason’s Big Adventure

Leonard Lea Frazer

When I first met Andy Orason back in 1985, he had just arrived in town from Vancouver. I became a very willing tour guide as I knew Andy had come back to visit his old stomping grounds. It was perfect timing too.

Myself, and other members of the Valemount Historic Society were in the middle of our three and a half year labour of gathering material for the local history book, “Yellowhead Pass and Its People.” I had the job of editing over 3000 photographs that had been submitted by local families. We had recently received historical pictures of Mr. Orason and his family in the mail and these images were fresh in my mind.

Our decision to put plans for a museum on the back burner and concentrate on recording the life stories of the original pioneers led us to our History gathering project. Finding information about those who had settled here and helped to create the community was our top priority.

The urgency of our task became clear when the first person to be interviewed for the history book, retired mill worker Tom Nasachuk, passed away before the book was published.

And, now Mr. Orason was at my doorstep asking for a history-tour escort. Yes, Andy was back in town. Sure, he was in Valemount, but it was known as Cranberry Lake back when he first ventured out from Swift Creek siding as a boy. The railway station there had been home for young Andrew and his mom and dad and brother Michael.

The Valemount Museum today is in the old railway station.
The Valemount Museum today is in the old railway station.
Mr. Orason inspects the telegraph operator’s office at the Valemount Train Station.
Mr. Orason inspects the telegraph operator’s office at the Valemount Train Station.
A view showing the back kitchen area of the Valemount Station (before being moved a second time in 1988).
A view showing the back kitchen area of the Valemount Station (before being moved a second time in 1988).
Andrew and Michael Orason in front of the Swift Creek train station before it was moved to Cranberry Lake (Valemount).
Andrew and Michael Orason in front of the Swift Creek train station before it was moved to Cranberry Lake (Valemount).
Andy Orason and Dave Graham inside the station.
Andy Orason and Dave Graham inside the station.

We started the history tour by visiting the original site of the Swift Creek station which was 1 ½ miles east of the present day Valemount train station (across from today’s Swiss Bakery).  There was just the mainline railway tracks at Swift Creek and a siding; no trace of where the old station had been or of the people who had lived there.

Mr. Orason describes life at the station in his own words – “Mother, my brother Mike and I came out in early 1914, at which time dad had stayed as section foreman at Swift Creek. There was no station at that time for us to live in, so our first home was a boxcar, divided into three parts. One end was mom and dad’s quarters; the other end was where my brother and I slept; the centre part was the kitchen and eating area. The plumbing was out behind the trees. The section crew lived in another boxcar and my mother did their cooking and laundry.

The Swift Creek station was built at its original location; approximately 1½ miles east of where it is at Valemount, in 1914, by a Bridge and Buildings gang. There were two bedrooms and an operator’s room. The telegraph office was built out in front, with large bay windows on three sides so that trains could be seen coming in both directions. Most of the material was supplied by Lindsey Brothers’ sawmill, which was located at Swift Creek (at the actual creek site). This mill was operated by water power.

Mrs. Orason, ironing on the back porch at the Swift Creek station. The family root cellar was directly below the back porch.
Mrs. Orason, ironing on the back porch at the Swift Creek station. The family root cellar was directly below the back porch.

As section foreman, Dad had three to five men under him. The amount of track worked was half the distance to the next station in both directions. Jackman was seven miles on one side and Canoe River was nine miles on the other. The Swift Creek section crew originally used a hand-car (pump car) until dad bought a motor-car (put-put). The company didn’t supply these machines to all section crews at that time. A lot of people came with dad on the motor car to go and buy groceries at Lucerne, through a fur terminal. The trains pretty well stayed on schedule as they had to make connections and meet at certain places. You could phone up the line and find out where they were.

Passenger trains came by once a day, one eastbound and one westbound. They picked up the mail bag on the fly with a mail-arm and also threw off the incoming mail. The way-freight stopped at all the stations bringing supplies from Jasper, Kamloops and Edmonton to people in the area.

Mr. and Mrs. Cox had a small store and post office about half a mile from the station, the nearest other store was at Blue River. In a clearing by our Swift Creek station home we had a garden. Also, around the back under the back porch, we had a root cellar where we kept pickles, sauerkraut and homemade beer. We used to pick up CNR cutlery along the tracks, as the dishwashers on the dining cars would throw out dishwater, sometimes with cutlery still in it.

Andy Orason, during the tour, examining the old peeling paint on the exterior station walls.
Andy Orason, during the tour, examining the old peeling paint on the exterior station walls.

South of Swift Creek siding, a spur was put in because of the old sawmill up on the hill (West Ridge). Right after the CNR built the spur for the Kennedy sawmill and logging operations, a man named Porter opened a store. I believe that Mr. Porter brought the first automobile into the area.

My brother and I used to walk to school along the tracks, accompanied sometimes by the two Cox girls, Hazel and Betty.

I had the job of delivering the mail from Cox’s post office to Kennedy’s mill. During lunch break at school I would walk to the mill with any mail I had and pick up any outgoing mail and deposit it at the post office on my way home. I was paid $8.00 per month for this job. I was also the janitor at the old log school house for some time and for this job I was paid $5.00 per month.

Mrs. McKirdy, who at that time was Miss Waite, was our school teacher. After Mrs. McKirdy a man from England taught at the school. His name was Burkett. He lived in Mrs. Gordon’s place on the banks of Swift Creek.”

While we walked beside the tracks at the old station site, I asked Andy if he remembered the First Nation group that used to live at Tete Jaune Cache. As a boy he distinctly remembered that they were all rounded up and sent south towards Kamloops. He was unable to remember which year that was. He also remembered that a traveling photographer passed through who took pictures of the Orason family in front of the station. Apparently, he had been visiting all the people along the entire railway line and making photos of the people he met.

Mr. Orason also recalled that “when we arrived at Swift Creek the only residents in the area that I can remember were: the Blackman family, Mrs. Gordon, Dave Henry, Joe Lynch and Mr. McKirdy, the Ranger or Game Warden and the Cox family. There were Fryes from Albreda and later the Clausen family (at Cranberry Lake).”

Our next stop brought us to Ellice Blackman’s home where we were welcomed in by Mrs. Blackman for tea and a look at her many photo albums. After a short visit we headed back to Valemount to the train station.

Andy explained that the name Valemount was not known to him until the late 1920s, not until the Swift Creek station was moved westward where it was renamed “Valemount” (Valley in the Mountains) by the CNR in 1927.

While at the station house we took photographs of the exterior of the building and were invited inside by Station Agent, Dave Graham, so that Mr. Orason could check out his old living quarters. Mr. Graham’s family had also lived in the building for many years.

So ended the history tour for myself and Andy; it had been a real adventure. But, this was not his first reunion with the community. Mr. Orason explained – “So much for the Swift Creek that I knew, 1914 – 1920. My next visit to the area was in 1929. I stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Cox. In 1964, I made another visit. Sure had grown, bad roads but lots of work in the area due to the Mica Creek project. In 1970, via Prince George and McBride, I paid another visit, again in 1976, 1980, and 1982. Not much to say about the later years, but I enjoyed them.”