1951 Detailed Travel Diary of a Halifax Woman’s Train Tour Across Canada and Into the Western United States

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On offer is a wonderfully detailed description of a classic train trip across Canada in the middle of the 20th century, often reading as a love letter to Canada as it was shortly after the second world war, as the baby boom was in full swing.

The journal belonged to Elizabeth Helen Mahon (1926-2020). Mahon was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, graduating from Dalhousie University with a B.Sc in 1948. She worked in public health and as a registered lab technician. She married Ronald Curtis Lewis, who passed away in 1964, and in 1993 she married Ernest Cavanaugh, who passed away in 1994. Elizabeth had three children. After leaving Halifax, Elizabeth lived in Amherst, Dartmouth, Toronto, Brantford and finally settled in Cornwall, Ontario. Elizabeth was devoted to the United Church and an active member of the UCW. She was also a long-term member of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW). 

In 1951, Elizabeth was 25, apparently dating her would-be husband, who she calls “Curtis”, and working in public health. She embarked on what is often seen as the iconic Canadian experience – travelling across the vast expanse of Canada by train. On this trip, she was accompanied by her aunt. She travelled west to British Columbia and then south to the United States, stopping in Seattle before heading back east through Montana. Some of the many places Elizabeth stops, tours and discusses at length in her diary include Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Banff and Lake Louise, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Yellowstone (Montana). She does indicate that she travels to Chicago on her way back to Halifax, but her record cuts off after the Montana leg of her journey. 

Helen’s descriptions are well written and offer an excellent perspective of Canada as it was, as well as some nice insight into western USA. Mahon often stopped in cities where she had friends or family and described local tours or excursions she took which adds a richness of detail to her journey.

The following examples will illustrate not only the images and impressions of what she wanted to capture but also her descriptive writing. Note that these are just excerpts. Her entries are very long and chatty.:

“Soon after leaving Newcastle came to Bathurst and to the Bay Chaleur and saw the Gaspé Peninsula very clearly. High hills looking quite purple with green fields just like squares at the foot and little white dots where there were villages. Some places looked like sheer rock” [June 10]. 

“...Returned over the Henri Mercier Bridge in heavy traffic and came through west part of Montreal. Many of the Indians from the Reserve work on bridges because they are surefooted at high altitudes. Many work on bridges in New York and Montreal. Return to their little shacks on weekends in big cars…” [June 11].

“...There are a great many very tiny homes, poor looking but almost no tenements in Regina. Saw many different foreign churches, Greek Orthodox, Ukranian…Romanian…Saw many of the buildings of the crown corporations such as Saskatchewan Gov’t telephone Insurance, power etc…Many wooden sidewalks in Regina” [June 18]. 

“... As we climbed higher above Lake Louise the lake became a deeper color. It really is turquoise, clear when you are beside it but seems to be a solid color as you get higher. Came to a little lake called Mirror Lake. From there we could see the Little Log House way up above. So we kept climbing…” [June 27].

“...The bus brought us direct to Banff Springs Hotel. We really felt “ritzy” in our room which is huge. If this is what the cheapest ones are we wonder what the more expensive ones are like…then we went to the Town to get mail at the Cascade and take the chair lift up Mount Norquay. This chair life is really wonderful the way you just float to the top of the mountain. The view was superb. We looked down on the Town of Banff, the Banff Springs Hotel and right down the Bow Valley the way it flows toward Calgary. Mt Rundle is really a beautiful mountain and no picture I have seen does it justice…went to look around the hotel and discovered an illustrated lecture on the Rockies being given in Mt. Stephen Hall…” [June 28]. 

“One of the first places we noticed was Butte Montana. Rather a barron looking town from the train…Plateau land, rolling hills, no trees, lots of sage brush, then all of a sudden this ended and there was flat prairie…we disembarked at Three Forks for Yellowstone…the bus took us to Gallatin Inn…This iss a very nice inn run by the Milwakee railroad…” [July 7].

Also included with this diary are 20 black and white photographs. The pictures are of individuals and small groups who obviously were important in her life. One has the annotation “Anna”. Anna was with Elizabeth on this trip. 

For a social historian, this diary offers a fine overview of what Canada looked like through the eyes of a a young woman on her first trip across this vast country. For a gender studies program, it points to the changing roles of women in Canadian society, prompted by the enormous changes in society as a result of WWII.

This small travel journal measures 6.5x4.0 inches and contains 108 pages. It is about 90% complete. The covers and binding are in good condition as are the pages. The handwriting is quite legible.

Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to request photos. (Kindly include the SKU, listed on this page above the price, in your e-mail so we can more easily answer your questions.)

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