Friendship Trains

The Friendship Train as I remember it

by Steve Andrishak

Friendship trains were quite common in the early 1950's. Their main purpose was to give many wholesalers and businessmen of Edmonton an opportunity to meet and visit with their many customers along the various railway lines.

The first one I remember originated in Edmonton in 1951 and covered all the towns and villages between Edmonton and Heinsburg. Stops were made along our railway line in many towns and villages and were met by many business people. Apparently this Friendship train served its purpose and was a success. Two years later it was decided by all the towns and villages of our railway line to re-pay this visit. After much planning by the many various Chambers of Commerce and the city of Edmonton the date of Tuesday, June 24 was selected for this return visit. The C.N.R. made arrangements

for many extra passenger cars to be available in different towns to haul passengers to the city. The railway fare was $2.90 return and many people took advantage of the cheap rate. About 50 Elk Point people boarded this train. They all came prepared with one or more bottles of whiskey.

As the train started to roll, drinks were soon available for all. Additional passengers were picked up along the line as it sped westward and eventually a total of well over 500 people landed in Edmonton. By this time a lot of liquor had been consumed and many people didn’t know if they were on a Friendship train or at a circus. We were met at the Edmonton railway station by about 100 passenger automobiles and we were whisked away on a sightseeing tour and later we attended a massive banquet. The city wholesalers and businessmen treated us royally and at their expense.

 A trip such as this was bound to have many humorous moments. One I clearly remember happened just as I was on way to the MacDonald Hotel where many of us were billeted. The first Elk Point visitor I met was Ernie Brailsford with a grin on his face. I could see he was feeling no pain. The first thing he said to me was that one of our group was in jail. He did not tell me who it was - I guessed right off the bat. I no sooner got to bed when the telephone started to ring. It rang about six times - I knew it was our prisoner calling. No way was I going to answer it. A big party was in session opposite my room and eventually my roommate answered the call. As the phone was next to my bed I was able to hear the call clearly. It went like this, “Max, come and get me.” Max answered, ”Where the hell are you?” “In jail was the answer.” Max said, “It’s a good place for you,” and hung up. Soon the phone rang again and again Max answered it. He then left the party and visited the jail where he paid the fine and bailed out our prisoner. The next day I found out how he ended up in jail. He was standing in the intersection of 101 Street and Jasper Avenue directing traffic with a half-consumed bottle of whiskey hanging out his back pocket. The night ended with hundreds of other parties in many other hotels. The next day most of the people I met looked like they had been on a lost weekend. The same day we were heading for home. I’m sure our Edmonton wholesalers were glad to see many of us go. I remembered when we reached St. Paul and one of our passengers was still very much intoxicated. I asked him how he liked the Friendship train. His answer was, “What Friendship train? I was on a big party. The biggest one I ever remember being on.”

This was the last of the Friendship trains and I could see why. When I left Edmonton along with the rest of the 500 passengers, I thought to myself that Edmonton would probably never be the same again.