Introducing… Where Were You in ‘62?

Editor’s note:

In this issue, Tom Parkin, a Nanaimo-based stonemason whose ability with a hammer and chisel is equaled by his wit and skill with words, begins contributing a monthly column about life in Revelstoke as it was in the not-too-distant past.

Some of The Current’s readers will be familiar with his monthly contribution to Don and Deb Lindley’s Revelstoke Birthdaze monthly e-letter.

Tom writes vignettes, often based on photos or personal experiences, that awaken memories of the good ol’ days of the 1960s, ’50s, and beyond. They are delightful and I am certain he’ll win new fans.

The son of a railroader and a graduate of RSS, the 60-year-old Parkin was for many years a full-time writer who published a number of books including: Green Giants; Wet Coast Words and Land of Our Own: how four immigrant families united on Canada’s Manitoulin Island; and, with Dennis Horwood, Haida Gwaii: The Queen Charlotte Islands.

It’s a bit of stretch from writing to stonemasonry, but Tom laughs it off.

“I’d done everything I was good at,” he said in an interview. “I had worked as a  park naturalist and as a professional writer … I began thinking of myself as retired.”

But a couple of life changes forced him to rethink things, so he apprenticed as a mason at the age of 50, and now makes his living as a self-employed craftsman of natural stone in Nanaimo. On the side he continues to write, and not just his short humorous columns. He is currently working on an historical coming-of-age novel set in Revelstoke and Rogers Pass.


Last Run

Tom Parkin

The CPR had a problem with conductor Willie Jim McDonald of Revelstoke. He was the only conductor on the national system who wore whiskers. And he wouldn’t get rid of them.

The CPR tried. They argued that he was an exception; that he presented a poor image for a progressive company; that whiskers were unsanitary, etc. McDonald was steadfast.

His union backed him, declaring that his beard was clean, trim, and non-hazardous. So he kept it until his retirement day. Here he is, concluding his last run on #7 at Kamloops, 30 August 1944:

L to R: Charlie Painting – baggageman, Harry Walmsley – tailend trainman, D. P. “Dippy” Graham – engineer, Willy Jim McDonald – conductor, O. S. “Sinc” Jones – front end trainman, Alex Forbes – assistant superintendent, Vic Crosby – fireman (in loco cab). Sinclair Jones later made conductor and this picture hung in his caboose for many years. His own last run was 7 November 1985, to the C.P.R.’s 100th anniversary celebration at Craigellachie. He now lives in Rutland, BC. Please click on the image to see a larger version.

McDonald’s story has been told in a number of books, but often inaccurately. The details presented here are from a man who knew him.

Revelstoke Railfans Reunite!

IMAX, the big-screen theatre people, recently released a 40-minute spectacular about the building of the CPR in the western mountains, Rocky Mountains Express. Retracing the original route aboard the steam engine 2816, Rocky Mountain Express pulls audiences back to the age of steam to re-live this alpine nation-building odyssey. Canadian filmmaker Stephen Low weaves together spectacular IMAX aerial cinematography, breathtaking vistas, archival images and maps, and the potent energy and rhythms of a live locomotive to immerse audiences in a an era of ingenuity and struggle.

2816, for those unfamiliar with her, is a restored Hudson 4-6-4 locomotive, and of a type which once operated at Revelstoke. The CPR marketing department calls her “The Empress.” With the much-loved 2860 now in retirement, seeing her younger cousin is a rare treat for steam fans. Unfortunately, few of us can afford to ride behind her—so this film will be as good as getting aboard! There are many scenes around historic and modern-day Revelstoke. See a trailer on YouTube by clicking this link:


Prepare Thyself

I propose to organize a group viewing for former and current Revelstokians in the National Geographic Theatre in Victoria (located at the Royal BC Museum) on Saturday, April 7th in the afternoon. That is the Easter weekend, so will be a wonderful time to have a holiday at the coast, enjoy the gardens, and visit old friends on the Island.

This is an all-invited, un-hosted affair. In other words, you needn’t know me to come. It will be an excuse to see who else shows up. If you like trains, or your grandkids do, then spread the word! If you would like to organize a side-party, go ahead! One thing I will do is take expressions of interest leading up to the event. If at least 15 people commit in advance, a group discount is available ($9.07 each). Contact me directly about that:

 Tom Parkin, Nanaimo
or e-mail

To get started on the right piston, I propose we meet aforehand for lunch downtown, possibly at Swan’s Brew Pub (see From there, it’s a 20-minute stroll to the museum/theatre complex. Again, if we’re a large group, reservations would be considerate. Please advise me of your interest or co-ordinating ideas.

For example, how about a “Van Horne smoke-in?” Recently I read that Sir W. C. Van Horne’s doctor told him to cut down his smoking to only three cigars a day. Having connections in Cuba, the great man ordered some appropriate cigars for himself — 12 inches long by 1.5 inches wide! Van Horne chortled every time he stoked one up. You needn’t smoke to have fun with a cigar, and ladies now enjoy them as well. Com’on, break loose this once! Goodfella’s, a recommended tobacconist, is located right across the street from Swan’s, where distinguishing parties may shop.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
The Wonder Years (1988-1993)

© Tom W. Parkin  

You can contact Tom at: