Wednesday, 18 January 2012


By Herman Bryan, M.D., F.A.C.S.

This article was presented to the Nipigon Historical Museum  by Dr. Bryan's daughter shortly after we opened in 1973. I make all my summer student staff read this.

Part One

As the intimate knowledge of anatomy of the human body is to the success of the surgeon so is the complete understanding of the history of one's immediate environment essential to successful living.

On the 4th of June 1905, after finishing a year of post-graduate work I was called to Ottawa by Mr. Lumsden, Chief of the Survey and Construction of the Transcontinental Railway. Mr Lumsden put me in charge of the medical supervision of Division E. which extends from the present town of Hearst to a little west of Armstrong on the main Canadian National Railway. This distance is approximately 250 miles and parallel to the Canadian Pacific through the District of Algoma and Thunder Bay about 125 miles to the north.

In charging me with my duties the chief gave me authority to command if necessary any supplies or help I required to look after the health of the men on survey or construction. I thought at the time this was rather a peculiar authority to give me but evidently he knew the autocratic tendencies of some of the engineers who considered themselves the only authority in the woods.

May I ask you to draw down the curtain of our present day facts and go back with me forty years when this work was first started. (This was likely written about 1945)

To give you some picture of my duties I may explain that over this territory which was practically unexplored, caches or store-houses were established every 25 to 50 miles along this entire stretch from east to west.  Large rivers cut this country north of the Height of Land and goods and provisions for the survey party had to be transported from the C.P.R. north by canoe and dog team over the water routes and trails to these strategic positions. Cache keepers or two men were supposed to be stationed in charge of these supplies. Two men because if one took ill or had some injury he might lay for months before anyone found or visited him.

The Headquarters was at Nipigon in the Old Hudson's Bay Building at the docks. This building has since been destroyed by fire. Mr. Perry was chief engineer, Mr. Hannington assistant and later Mr. T.S. Armstrong took charge. Mr. Perry was a short, stocky man in his early 60's. His favourite dress was riding breeches and English jacket and cap. He wore close trimmed whiskers and I never met a man who could lose his temper quicker, curse you more heartily and then amend for it better. I took my letter from Ottawa to him and he read it, got red in the face and looking at me said, "What in hell did they send you up here for?" When he had finished his first outburst he said, "Well, Doctor, what can I do to make you comfortable?" That was Perry.

This man had a bad heart. He was not well and later his feet and legs were badly swollen, and being a devoted Christian he always said his prayers, but he found it difficult kneeling by his bedside. So he made a little Edison record of what he want to say  and then got into bed, turned on his gramophone and had it do the work for him.

Hannington, big and husky, a typical woodsman and engineer who hated office work and detail, tells a story of his early life. He and his brother were attending college in an eastern institution. The principal was a n old time Methodist, long black coat and all. When the old minister would be praying, Hannington and his brother would tiptoe out. One day the old man followed them into the garden and they met face to face. The old professor in his sanctimonious voice said, "Well boys, have you found the Lord?"  Hannington looked up at him and replied, " I didn't know he was lost, sir."

Shortly after my arrival at Nipigon, a young English Church Missionary came and Mr. Perry asked him to sit at our table. That didn't suit Hannington at all. One morning he and the Missionary came to breakfast a the same time and the Missionary  started asking Hannington questions. Hannington was very short with him and I felt something was brewing. At last the Missionary said, "And what do they raise around here Mr. Hannington?"  "Nothing but Hell," was the reply.

T.S. Armstrong , photo. Tramway Engine
To be concluded in "The Rescues"

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