The man who helped span a continent
I have a fair idea of who W.J. Anthony was, but I wonder if more can be learned.
According to a tribute, written by Harry Rowe and published in the “Atlantic Guardian” in February 1952, Anthony “ helped span a continent.”
In Rowe’s opinion, the “ building of a transcontinental railway across Canada was an important contribution to strengthening the bonds of Confederation in its early years.”
A band of 100 Newfoundlanders helped lay the rails for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). All of them, Rowe adds, “can claim their rightful place in Canadian history.” Can their names be retrieved from the dustbin of history at this late remove?
In the early 1950s, Anthony was living at 1602 Bathurst Street in Toronto, Ont. He celebrated his 80th birthday on Feb. 2, 1952.
He earned distinction by helping to lay the last CPR rails around Crow’s Nest Pass, a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border.
However, that was only one of the many highlights of Anthony’s eventful and colourful career.
He was born in 1872. As for his birthplace, all I know is he was born in Conception Bay. Perhaps readers can add a town name.
Anthony went sealing as a young man. His first voyage, at the age of 18, was aboard the “Neptune,” a wooden whaling and sealing ship under the command of Captain Samuel Blandford.
One of the passengers was Wilfred T. Grenfell, the English medical missionary to Newfoundland and Labrador.
On the last day of the voyage, Grenfell told Blandford, “I would like to get a carcass.”
“Go ahead,” the skipper instructed Anthony.
The teenager returned with eight, one of which he gave to Grenfell.
Blandford, impressed by Anthony’s success at sealing, gave his full-fledged sealers a dressing down.
“ This boy got eight seals in 10 minutes, and he will get a man’s share for a man’s work,” the skipper said.
Though hired on for half a share, Anthony was paid $45, the amount an experienced sealer received.
The next year, Anthony went seal- ing in the “Nimrod,” which was one of the first wooden steamers build expressly for the Newfoundland seal fishery. Captain Jim Blandford was in charge.
Rowe writes that Anthony’s “clothes almost caught fire while he was sleeping. The vessel was jammed so full of seals that the men slept wherever they could find a place. Mr. Anthony lay down on a grate early in the morning, after being relieved at the wheel, and awoke to find a pail of water being poured over him. He was wearing a greasy moose-skin jacket, which smoked so much on contact with the heat that a passing seaman had sprung into action!”
At 80, Anthony’s memory was beginning to fade. However, he had no difficulty dating his stint with the CPR. He simply recalled the well-known “Greenland” disaster of 1898.
“ It was a thrilling adventure for th e young men who went west with Mr. Anthony,” Rowe writ e s . dren and grandchildren, now doing the dirty work of a powerful lobby group who have robbed from outport people the right to have a salmon for their children.
Outport people should be ashamed of having broken faith with those who died for the freedoms that they knew.
I could list them, but just take a moment to reflect on the freedoms that your father and grandfather enjoyed as a matter of being an outport person — daily tasks that were yours to engage in would would place you in front of a Judge. A judge probably going to spend this weekend on the river practicing catch and release.
We have become sad excuse for the proud, fighting Newfoundlander. David Boyd Twillingate “After work, they spent their time in the railroad cars, but they also enjoyed the delights of scooping up fish with their hands in nearby mountain streams.
“ Some of the men succumbed to mountain sickness, of which he himself was a victim, but recovered.
“ Meals were all that could be desired and board cost $5 a month. They received 50 cents an hour.”
Anthony worked there from the summer until shortly before Christmas.
“ The men had to walk 75 miles through wild mountainous country to get home after laying the last rail. Trains did not travel the road until a year later. Speed was vital in their work and, when one of the gangs wagered a gallon of rum that Mr. Anthony’s team could not lay 10 cars of rails in five hours, the men proceeded to do just that, with a good margin to spare.”
After serving in the Second Boer War, which was fought from 18991902, Anthony returned to Canada and was employed in structural steelwork for the rest of his working career.