History, drama and personal memoir combine in Rolling Home, a clear-eyed look at the changing fortunes of Canada's railway, an icon in our nation's life. Tom Allen, host of CBC Radio Two's Music & Company, crosses the country east to west and north to Hudson's Bay, meeting passengers, engineers, cooks and porters, in a story that is part celebration, part travelogue and part lament.
Tom Allen grew up during the last hurrah of passenger rail travel in Canada. By 1961, the year he was born, the Canadian Pacific Railway passenger service was in trouble. In this huge and sparsely populated country, people were turning more and more to airlines and cars, to the point where only a small percentage of the travelling public took trains.
But even as the Canadian railroad steadily declined, its image has been steadily buffed with lore and romance. For early immigrants, it was their first introduction to the vast space of their new country; for later generations, crossing Canada by train was a rite of passage for many young people, eager to travel the length and breadth of the land.
In Rolling Home, Tom Allen travels with his family and alone, from Halifax to the interior of British Columbia, riding everything from a two-car dayliner held together with duct tape to a luxury rail cruiser through the Rockies that's packed with wealthy tourists. Along the way, he meets honeymooners and abandoned spouses, ordinary folk and deranged passengers, and has a memorable encounter with a charming man with no short-term memory. He meets visitors from abroad, local people on the milk run that provides a vital link between small remote communities, and veteran railwaymen who sustain pride in their work despite the massive cuts to their industry. Allen weaves his own memories of railroad travel with a family narrative past and present, all the while conjuring the drama, the disappointments, the history and the magic of Canada's railway history.