Telegrapher turned artist recalls Barry’s Bay

A reader from North Bay, Peter Hamel, contacted The Current to say he had many fond memories of Barry’s Bay. Upon hearing his name, this reporter immediately asked if he was “related to Joe Raymond Hamel who (I believe) was telegraph operator at the Barry’s Bay station in 1952.” That hunch proved correct, as Hamel replied saying that Ray was his brother. Above: Logging in the bush, drawing by Peter Hamel. Photo Peter Hamel

Hamel comes from a long line of railroaders and told us he worked for 35 years as a telegrapher for the Ontario Northland Railway. As telegrapher it was his job to receive and relay train orders and other information. He told a reporter from the North Bay Nugget that “all the boys learned Morse code. And when the time came to get a job, working for the railroad seemed only natural.”  

A little research reveals that the Hamel Family were inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2019 in the Rail Heroes category. A media release dated December 19, 2019 states, “Four generations of Hamels have contributed a total of 570 years of cumulative service to the Grand Trunk, CN, CP, and Ontario Northland railways. Third-generationer J.G. Hamel is credited with saving the lives of 150 people aboard a disabled passenger train by alerting an oncoming freight train. Three of his brethren – James, Steve, and Perry Hamel – continue to serve Canadians today as CN employees.”

Railroader became artist

Hamel said, “I started drawing at the age of 12. I took a commercial art course in 1964. I retired from the railroad in 1990 and have been drawing and painting ever since.”

Telling us he is “an ex- Barry’s Bay resident with wonderful memories of the Bay,” Hamel sent us the drawing above, saying he thought it might bring back some memories for the “old timers” in the area.

He uses pen and ink, wash and gouache, pencil, charcoal and acrylic for his art work. He says, “Then a little bit of imagination and choose a subject, then check my files or the library. Then I choose the medium, colour or black and white. Then I go to work.” Of the finished product, Hamel says, “If I am successful that night I’ll go outside, look up at the dark sky and wink at the best artist of us all and say Thank You.”



  1. Frances Mawson

    Good story and I really like the illustration, that overwhelming blue light of a northern winter and the feel of action from the men and horses. My family were railroad people too; we forget how many people the railroads employed. I wish they were still with us, such a great way to travel and so much more environmentally friendly.

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