Plenty has changed since Malcolm MacLeod arrived in Canada in 1924. Everything except the fact that every single day, he walks and walks—and walks.
MacLeod was among a shipment of about 200 young European men on board a ship that brought them to Canadian shores. They were among hundreds sought to help populate Australia, Canada, and the U.S. by agents in Europe.
Unfortunately, MacLeod’s boat was arriving in May, just after the planting season, and the work that goes with it already had wrapped up.
“We figured we were going to work on farms but things didn’t work that way,” he recalled last week. “When we landed in Montreal, after we went through the immigration and customs, we got on the train and the bulk of us went to Toronto.
“We were in the lounging area where people got addresses to go work on farms,” he noted. “We waited and then, after supper, more men came on the train and there was no work.”
MacLeod left the train station and took up travelling with a fellow Scotsman and two Englishmen in search of work.
Their search brought them from Port Stanley to St. Thomas by train, then they joined a travelling salesman stopping in several communities to seek work before finally arriving in Tilbury.
There, MacLeod’s trip came to a sudden halt as he exited a train station and was hit on the head and sent flying. “I don’t know what hit me but it threw me against the boarding train,” he remarked.
While he can recall little about the incident, MacLeod woke up in a bed with a bandaged head and the realization that one of his travelling companions had been killed by the train.
He also found he was stuck in Tilbury as part of an inquest and trial—his first lucky break as it turned out.
“On the jury panel for the inquest, there was a fellow on there who said, ‘Do you have a job to go to?’ The fellow said to me, ‘Well, come and work for me,” recounted MacLeod.
After a short stint there, the farmer hired his nephew and MacLeod moved on to another farm—a job with CN in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) manning a tugboat that moved wood, sand, and gravel across Lake Superior.
“I made enough to get to the next job,” he said. “Of course, things were different. You could get board and room for $30 a month and they did your laundry, too.
“If you saved $200 in the summer time, you were good for another three to four months.”
From 1927 on, MacLeod worked at least part-time with CN, maintaining tracks and working in the yards. He met his future wife, a nurse named Winfred, during a stint in Winnipeg, and they married in 1934.
“She happened to be at the same boarding house. I asked her out to the show and it went on from there,” he remarked.
The couple bought a home in Fort Frances, a town MacLeod favoured, and he took on a permanent job at the CN yard here.
“I like Fort Frances. The first time I happened to be working here, I walked up town in the evening and the streets where nice with gardens and everything, it was clean,” he recalled.
He worked with more than 100 people at the yard, which was made up of several buildings and hosted steady train traffic.
“Scots, Finns, Swedes, and Norwegians worked the yards and Ukrainians worked the tracks,” MacLeod noted.
The couple never bought a car as Winfred didn’t like them, MacLeod didn’t need one, and at the time, it was hard to get one to Fort Frances.
Times have changed since then. The local CN station is closed, the yard hires only a score of people, and vehicles can now enter Fort Frances from all directions.
MacLeod now lives alone as his wife passed away in 1988. But as he approaches his 97th birthday next month, some things still remain constant. He still lives in the Third Street East home he bought when they arrived in Fort Frances—although it now sports a colour television and Walkman.
And his home still does not have a driveway as, to this day, MacLeod walks to do his shopping, go to the library, or to visit others. And every day at 6 a.m., he gets up and takes a two-mile stroll—still admiring people’s gardens along the streets of Fort Frances.