Deborah Craw remembers her first time viewing the train station in Victoria.
Craw was used to working in bigger stations in larger cities across Canada, and the size of the little building at the foot of the Johnson Street Bridge took her by surprise.
“I thought it was actually a public washroom,” she said.
That was 20 years ago. Craw worked her last day on the job, as senior agent, on Monday after 36 years of full-time employment with VIA Rail. She spent the day shredding paper and boxing up papers for the archives.
On Aug. 9 she was notified by her employer she was laid off indefinitely as the station would shut down to the public Aug. 12, and permanently on Aug. 15, when the building’s lease expired with the city.
She made an emotional appeal to delay her pre-booked holiday, starting Aug. 11, in order to help close the little building down during its last days.
“I cried my little eyes out .… We were always prepared for this day, in view of the politics and the number of times the axe has been on my neck … but I just didn’t think it would end quite like this,” she said. “It came rather abruptly.”
Now 54 years old, Craw said she’s had a fabulous career with VIA, working in almost every major city during world-class events such as Expo 86 in Vancouver, the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, and the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 1994.
“I loved it,” she said. “I was just always in the right place for me at the right time.”
The adjustment to a smaller centre in Victoria came with different benefits.
“I looked at it as a challenge to get people to take the train,” she said, adding she did marketing presentations at seniors centres and schools. “It was being sort of a chief cook and bottle washer … you’re the face of VIA. You’re the complaint department, the sales department, you’re everything.”
Since the E&N rail line shut in April due to the poor condition of the track, sales at the station have been “very, very slow,” Craw said.
She continued to sell Canada-rail passes and bus tickets up island, until VIA rail ended the temporary service Aug. 7.
On Tuesday, her first day off the job, she travelled to Bowen Island to visit her brother “to get over the emotion.”
If the rail line restarts, and the Island Corridor Foundation open a new station, she will consider taking her old job back.
“We’ll see,” she said. “I’m telling myself I’m on vacation.”
Did you know?
In late June, the province contributed $7.5 million to study and improve the E&N line’s tracks. The first step is a $500,000 engineering inspection of the roughly 48 bridges and trestles. On Aug. 11, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure closed its bid for the inspection job.