We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard, the new book by the noted transportation historian Barry Sanford, looks at British Columbian railways from 1925 to 1955, as depicted in ninety-nine paintings by Jacquiard. The scenes, painted with great attention to detail and historical accuracy, often show a station or an aspect of railway right of way (sometimes a bridge or tunnel) seen in the context of the local landscape. Each painting is generally given a page with an accompanying page of text by Sanford, describing the location, its history, engineering features of the rail line, and railway operations in the area at the time. The text, as Sanford points out, is intended for the general reader. Occasionally Sanford has added a photograph to complement the painting. Unfortunately, the data pertaining to Jacquiard’s art (painting dimensions, medium, date and title) is not given.
The book, as might be expected, devotes a generous amount of space to the CPR’s mainline from Banff to Vancouver, as well as its southern line through the Crowsnest and Coquihalla. To some extent, the Jacquiard CPR scenes echo themes of the picturesque and railway engineering in the mountains presented by renowned CPR photographer Nicholas Morant and others. Train Master also gives significant space to the CNR’s mainline from Jasper to the Coast. However, as Sanford notes in his introduction, Jacquiard has painted few of British Columbia’s less important railway lines. Thus there are only two scenes of the Pacific Great Eastern, one of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo, and with the exception of a single painting of the station at Prince George, no scenes of the CNR line from the Yellowhead Pass to Prince Rupert.
The paintings, with their puffing locomotives, tidy railway stations, and glimpses of small town streets evoke a nostalgia for what Sanford calls the “golden age” of railroading, and the book with its gorgeous scenes is a celebration of and a lamentation for the era when railway mileages in North America peaked, when steam engines evolved to their ultimate technical capability, and when railways played a part in people’s lives in ways that have vanished.
The book leaves some lingering questions. Sanford doesn’t explain why we should especially care about Jacquiard’s art, nor are we given clues about how Jacquiard’s twin themes of trains and mountain landscapes might have come together, or how his treatment of his subject matter evolved, and although Jacquiard’s paintings could be securely placed within the discourse of tourist art and contemporary understandings of nostalgia, Sanford, who is not an art historian, doesn’t take us in this direction.
Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard
By Barry Sanford
Kelowna: Sandhill Book Marketing and National Railway Historical Society, 2012. 176 pp, $39.95 cloth
BC Studies, no. 178, Summer 2013.