Friday, January 26, 2018

Book Review: Railways of New Brunswick

Railways of New Brunswick
by Dan Soucoup
I've wanted to read Dan Soucoup's Railways of New Brunswick for some time now.

As you may know, I lived in New Brunswick for many years and had a deep interest in the railroads of the province. For many years, the most authoritative book on the topic was the book (with the same name, Railways of New Brunswick) by David Nason. I was looking forward to another perspective on New Brunswick's rich railway history.

This book starts with a brief overview of the history of railways in New Brunswick, followed by a capsule summary of the major railways that existed prior to the great mergers into CN and CP and subsequent abandonments.

The majority of the book features a series of historic photos, each with about a page of text either explaining the photo or inspired by the photo. An example would be page 44, with a photo of the Intercolonial Railway station in Moncton around 1900. The text below it talks about the design and construction of the station.

Some of the photos are familiar to students of New Brunswick railway history, as most of the photos came from the Provincial Archives. For example, the photo at left (not from Soucoup's book, his reproduction is better) is an often-reproduced photo of a priest at the Bathurst train station.

The text under the photo in Soucoup's book talks about the criminal William Gagnier and a gunfight among the railway cars in the yard in 1914.

The book is a good read but I wouldn't call it a scholarly work. The list of sources in the back shows a list of town history books like Historic St. Andrews by Ronald Rees, the excellent Cinders and Saltwater by Shirley Woods, and even Railways of New Brunswick by David Nason. So this book is built on secondary sources, which is fine for reading but it's not an academic history book.

I was very frustrated by the number of typographical errors in the book. This book needed an editor. There aren't any misspelled words; I'm sure it passed the spell checker but there are a lot of errors. A few examples might help illustrate this. On page 163 the author talks about the end of the Valley Railway due to the opening of the Mactaquac Dam in 1867.. it was opened in 1967. More egregious were sentences like this: "it wasn't so much that Nova Scotia won but that Britain got its' way" and a passage that meant to say "under siege" but read "under seize". Maybe most people wouldn't notice these, but my proofreader's eye picked quite a few out.

This book would have benefited from more maps. There is one historical map at the start of the book but there aren't any others. A few maps showing the major railways like the Intercolonial Railway and the New Brunswick Railway would have been beneficial.

I enjoyed reading this book for the most part. It's an easy read and the pictures are quite varied and interesting, with good illustrative text under them. The typos in the book were a distraction, but in general I would recommend this book as a good introduction to New Brunswick's great railway history.

Buy Railways of New Brunswick

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