The Voyage

Elsie always told me, in the 1970's and 1980's,  that she arrived in Waskatenau (then known as "Pine Creek")[1] on Good Friday in 1909. Perhaps we can forgive a small lapse in the memory of an event that occurred so many years before. Good Friday did figure in the trip, but it was not their day of arrival.

In fact Good Friday occurred on April 9th in 1909, the day of the Melbourne party departure from England. One can imagine the confusion of travel on that day. Did they have time for a last church service at the local church before catching the train for Liverpool? They would have taken the train into London, possibly from Surbiton or Thames Ditton, and likely would have been seen off by Frank's older sister Lillian and her husband Bert (Lillian would likely have been trying to control her two year old son Francis, who was destined to join Frank and Elsie some ten years later). Arriving at Victoria Station, they would probably have transferred there to Paddington Station for the trip to Liverpool. In those days most major liner sailing's were supported by special boat trains which took passengers right to the ship and it is likely that they were on such a boat train, taking them directly to their ship, the Canadian Pacific Liner, "The Empress of Britain". The sailing would probably have been late in the day so as to make such arrangements possible, thus reducing the need for an overnight stay in Liverpool. It is likely that their ticket, which included transportation all the way to Edmonton, also included the initial part of the voyage in England. But there was time before leaving and a story is related that just prior to getting on the boat, Frank took the time to send one last postcard to his mother, as he was apparently in the habit of doing, prior to departure.

This is not the postcard that Frank sent his parents the day he sailed from Liverpool. However, it is a postcard that he has sent his mother when he was away from home on an earlier trip in 1908. It is particularly interesting to see this as it is an example of Frank's penmanship at that time. In the late 1920's Frank suffered an accident which crippled his hands making it difficult to write so that he wrote little in later life and what he did write is quite different in terms of penmanship. The address on the envelop is interesting, also, as it locates the family in Surbiton in 1908. Frank's father retired from the Metropolitan Police Force in February of 1907. His last position was as Desk Sgt. in the Surbiton police station in Tolworth (that police station and the building it was in are no longer extant)

Th Empress would probably have started its journey at a dock in Europe, perhaps in Norway, where this postcard was mailed from the ship on a voyage later that year.

This is a souvenir postcard of the ship that was likely available to the Melbourne party during their voyage. This particular card was posted on December 16, 1909 from Norway, about 9 months after the Melbourne party voyage. The publisher of the card was G.W. Hunt & Co., Liverpool. #55770 J.V.

These origins allowed the Canadian Pacific ships to pick up large numbers of immigrants destined to open up the Canadian prairies. At this time immigration to Canada was widely advertised by the Canadian Government, under such slogans as "FREE HOMES FOR ALL", to open up the prairies to settlement. The Canadian Pacific played an active part in this process, one that was beneficial to it as a supplier of the transportation required by the immigrants. Some idea of the magnitude of this movement of people is obtained by looking at the landing records in the Canadian ports during these years. Week after week, during the spring and summer, 5,000 or more immigrants would pass through a port city, as two or three or even more of these large liners would dock.

The ships had three classes of passengers: first class, second class and steerage. While the Melbourne party did not travel first class, it was always a point of some pride to Elsie that she had not traveled in steerage, as most immigrants who pioneered did travel by steerage.

Information on the trip has not been passed down, that I know of, and so one must surmise to some extent. Normally, a trip across the Atlantic took about 6 days. The passage could be calm or rough at this time of year, the early spring. To landlubbers like the Melbourne party, the voyage would have been a striking experience, but, too, if the weather was rough, it might also have been a very uncomfortable one. I find it interesting that the only piece of information that Elsie ever gave me about the trip was that she traveled second class, not steerage. I made a similar trip, many years later, and at a much younger age -- that trip by ship across the Atlantic (a month earlier in the year, with a landing at Halifax) is burned indelibly in my memory, and indeed constitutes my first memories.

The ports that were used by the ships depended on the time of year. In the winter months (which did not have much traffic, as landing immigrants in the winter would not have made sense), ships docked in Halifax. This was because the St. Lawrence was not navigable due to ice. As the spring appeared, ships could land at St. John, New Brunswick. Later they would go into the St. Lawrence to Quebec City. And later still they would go all the way to Montreal. As winter approached the ports shut down in the reverse order.

On the voyage that the Melbourne party took, the ship landed at St. John, passing around the south end of Nova Scotia and progressing into the Bay of Fundy to the port. The distance the ship traveled would have been about 2,600 miles. April is still early in the year and that year, at least, the St. Lawrence was not open to Quebec City. I can not recall ever hearing Elsie mention that she landed in St. John, however her brother Leonard (rather coincidentally, Leonard would die at St. John on Jan 20, 1970) told his children of his arrival there and with that information. I was able to find the landing records for the ship in the National Archives of Canada. In these records, there indeed is the listing for the Melbourne party.

The above image is a composite of a portion of the first sheet of the landing records for the voyage and a portion of the page on which the Melbourne party is listed. The ship is clearly identified as the Empress of Britain departing Liverpool on 9 April 1909. The information for the Melbourne party (which was transcribed in the text) is also clearly shown, together with the fact that Frank Scott is with them. It is interesting to note that Leonard was initially identified as Laura, a female. Probably the statistics for male and female immigration in 1909 still reflect this classification!

Source: Passenger List on microfilm reel T-4820, National Archives of Canada

It is interesting to note that in addition to Frank being described as a teacher, both Elsie and Leonard Melbourne are listed as teachers. It is also interesting to note that the party has, between them, $50 in cash. It is also indicated that Polly is going to her husband and that the party is destined for Edmonton.

They would not have spent any time in St. John. It would have been merely a matter of passing through customs and immigration, transferring baggage to the train and then the train would depart. They would be off on their train voyage to Edmonton. St. John is not now a large city. In those days it was smaller -- the population in the 1901 census had only been about 40,000 people and it was probably of much the same size in 1909. The use of the city as a port for a couple of months of the year did not do much to increase its size as the vast flow of immigrants had little money to spend and were quickly on their way to their ultimate destinations.

It is difficult for a North American to appreciate the awe an Englishman would experience on a train trip such as that taken by the Melbourne party in 1909. Train travel was the marvel of the 1800's, both in Europe and in America. By 1850 all of England and Scotland was united with train travel to the furthest reaches of the country. Trains ran on regular schedule and day trips and vacations at the seaside became available to those of even minimal income. Great trains like the "Flying Scotsman" would take a person from London to Edinburgh in six hours. One could go from Lands End to John O' Groats (from the southern tip to northern rim) in twelve or fifteen hours, if well scheduled. But nothing prepared the Englishman for the trip across Canada. It was an interminable trip. It went on for days and days. Indeed one could be in Ontario alone for a day and a half. It ran through unpeopled wilderness. In April it took the new immigrants from springtime foliage in St. John, along the ice covered St. Lawrence. They might have stopped briefly in Montreal, where much of the conversation at the station would be in incomprehensible French. Then it would be through the snow covered woodlands of Ontario and the probably still snow covered, virtually deserted prairies.

Here and there would be small settlements alongside the railroad. Not pretty little villages with hedgerows and buildings that had stood for centuries. Muddy streets and wood clapboard buildings would be the norm in these villages. After Ottawa which had a population of about 60,000 in 1901 the next large city would be Winnipeg, about 2 days later, which had a population of about 90,000 in 1906. Of course Winnipeg was a long established city which traced its roots to the days of the Selkirk settlers.

Traveling Canadian Pacific they likely then went west passing through Regina (1906 population about 6,000) in Saskatchewan. Then, finally, on about the fifth day of the trip into Albert and on to Calgary (population about 12,000 in 1906). From there they would probably transfer, again without stopping over, to go north to the end of the railroad in the village of Strathcona (1906 population of about 3,000) on the southern bank of the Saskatchewan River, across from Edmonton. The "High Level Bridge", at the current 109th street, which would eventually bring the CPR into Edmonton was not started until the next year, 1910 with completion in 1913.

They were presumably met at the station by Edward Melbourne. Elsie recounted to me how they went from the station to a hotel where they spent the night. This would have been their first night in a non-moving bed in about 10 days or so -- it was probably the night of the 19th or 20th in April 1909. Whether the hotel was in Strathcona or in Edmonton I do not know. I also do not know how they would have crossed the river. Did a bridge exist at that time? Or did they take a ferry across? One story that was recounted to me by Elsie was that they all sat down for supper together in the hotel dining room. A large plate of meat was placed in front of Polly and she waited for the plates to be brought to her so she could serve the others. But then other large plates of meat were brought and placed in front of each of them -- they were astonished by the size of the servings. It is interesting that this would be one of the remembrances she would later recount.

The next part of the journey was the final leg - the trip to the family estate. This was a new experience for the travelers. The railroad stopped at Strathcona. There were no roads. They would now walk. The route they took was an old Indian trail called the "Victoria Trail" which ran along the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River. In the early days it was not a wagon trail but rather a footpath. I do not know how they made this trip, with their trunks and other baggage. But it was on foot and it may well have been that they pushed the baggage on wheelbarrows -- certainly some goods were taken to the homestead that way. It was not until a year or two later that they fashioned rafts and used those to go down river to their home. The distance is about 50 miles or so along the river. To walk this, with baggage, would have taken at least two days and perhaps three or four. It is my understanding that they set out the day after they arrived in Edmonton and if so, they would have arrived at their estate/homestead about 24 April, about two weeks after leaving Thames Ditton. It would have been a dramatic two weeks with an incredible change in scenery and way of life.

 [1] Actually, Pine Creek was the name of the post office located on the north bank of the river, on the Victoria Trail, two miles south of the present town of Waskatenau. When the railway was installed during WWI grain elevators and a community were created and given the name Waskatenau. The social and business focus moved north to the rail station site and Pine Creek as a name and community is now just an historical memory.

© Kenneth Scott and others
This  page was last updated on 15 September 2016