Some Background info to the CPR Christmas Tree Program (written by James McCracken, former CPR Agent in McAdam)
During the depression years when times were really hard and some children got but very little for Christmas, the CPR back shop and car department employees, headed, we are given to understand by W.J. Pickrell the then Master Mechanic, came up with the idea of a Christmas treat for the children and have a big tree down in the square in front of the station along with having Santa Claus arrive Christmas eve or the night before. It is thought that the first one held was in 1931 or 1932, possibly later.
The Christmas tree, and for quite a number of years afterward was obtained down the St. Stephen branch railway line. It was the custom to take a yard engine and a flat car along with a crew of men from the car department and 2 or 3 hrs later return with a big tree. As time passed and things changed they began to use the CPR Truck with men from the car Department to get the tree and in the latter years, Georgia Pacific Corp assisted in getting the tree, as usual, it came off their land.
The first Santa Claus, it is thought was Allen Moffitt, there could have been others before him but he was remembered by several to be the first. They had no fire truck to assist Santa at that time so after the program was all over he was on his own and on this particular night he was seen walking home with an empty sack on his back. It is said that the first Santa costume was borrowed from the Salvation Army in Saint John. But eventually, the Christmas Tree Committee and Mrs. Bertha Dewey made the first real good Santa suit which is still in use today.
In the beginning, the treats were obtained from Ganong Bros in St. Stephen. The boxes of candy would come up on the St. Stephen Frt and on the Sunday before several of the officials of the Company along with the old faithful employees gathered in CP Express office, made available by William McGuire to bag the candy. This was a big chore as there were about as many children then as there are now if not more. Later on, the bags of candy was changed to Nut Bars and apples. It is thought that this change took place about 1954 or 1955, and shortly after 1963, the bars were purchased locally at a price competitive to Ganong’s.
It was not easy for Santa to deliver these treats as some children showed up with Sugar diabetes, in these cases the family usually brought some special diabetic candy and Santa delivered that.
The first members of the Christmas Tree Committee that can be remembered were Mr. W.J. Pickrell as Chairman, Harry Piercy, Secretary, Harry Short and Bert Herd as Treasurers, the last members were A.J. Lord as Chairman, Ron Nason, Secretary, Milford Kinney, and Jim McCracken as Treasurers.
Funds to operate this program was collected from the employees of the CPR Canada Customs and later on the Georgia Pacific employees over the years were the Moffitt boys, Fred and Arden (some of the families still assist), Austin Dewey, Mickey McGuire, Arthur May, Ray Wood, and Les Cowan, the latter two did the collecting around town and continued to for quite a while after being pensioned. There are only some of the faithful workers which come to mind at this time, there were many others too numerous to mention who put a lot of effort into this program.
Over the years there were a lot of happenings and stories to tell which made the program a lot of fun. One that might be mentioned that comes to mind is that Santa had a girl-friend, or so it might appear. Ever since they started using the fire truck there was a fair lady out at her door, faithfully year after year, waving to Santa as he left the fire station, wishing him good luck on this perilous journey.